This immigration reform march was held in downtown Fresno on May 1, 2009. Organizing is now underway for the 2010 May Day march in support of immigrant rights.

Immigration Reform: Why Move Forward?

By: Leonel Flores

In recent years, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants and their families marched and appealed for immigration reform and the chance to realize their dreams, while they build the dreams of this nation. Immigrants continue to faithfully give their labor and their lives with the hope that one day they can emerge from the shadows and the most deplorable jobs and living conditions.

In December, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) introduced CIR-ASAP (H.R. 4321), the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009; providing┬á a glimmer of hope for the long-awaited reward that the community has sought. But this may again become a “dream deferred,” as the political realities provide a different view of the future.

What is the state of the immigrant community? Anyone living in the Fresno community would observe deep family ties and commitment to and energetic participation in employment and the economy. The Department of Homeland Security says that there are 10.8 million undocumented residents in the United States, although other estimates place the number closer to 12 million. California has around 2.6 million, or 24% of the national total.

According to a report from the California Immigrant Policy Center, immigrants and their children make up 41% of the state’s population. In the Fresno area, immigrants and their children make up 36% of the population and constitute nearly one-third of the labor force. Despite myths to the contrary, immigrants have a higher rate of employment than the general population and are more likely to become entrepreneurs, buying and building businesses.

Currently, progressive forces and labor are evaluating the political landscape and working on the current round of electoral campaigns. The huge disappointment of healthcare reform has altered expectations in regard to employee free choice, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) appointments and other legislative pieces.

Elections are fast approaching with all the characteristic uncertainties. There will also be larger infusions of money. The floodgates opened with the recent Supreme Court decision granting “human rights” to corporate boards and their lobbyists. Add to this mix the “tea party” activists and you might ask: “How could you possibly hope to see a change in immigration policy. If anything, things are likely to get worse.”

Despite all this, we must press forward with immigration reform efforts: We must honor the inferred contract with those who labor in the jobs that fulfill vital needs in society and that nobody else wants. We must recognize that they contribute, pay taxes, support their families and raise their children-sometimes on less than the minimum wage.

Unions and the political parties, both Democrats and Republicans, should remember that 6.8 million foreign-born California residents are either U.S. citizens or eligible to naturalize and become voters. U.S. citizens and legal residents often live under the same roof with undocumented family members.

The irony of the current reform bill is that along with allowing thousands to apply for work permits, it includes enforcement and mandatory employer participation in the E-Verify system, which could throw thousands of people out of their jobs. Because it is in the early stages, we have no insight into the plans for implementation.

In the Fresno area, the May 1st Committee (Comite Primero de Mayo) is a coalition of organizations and community members who continue to struggle for just and humane immigration reform. The name is drawn from May 1, 2006, when more than 10,000 Fresno residents of all ages and races united in support of immigration reform.

The May 1st Committee meets every other Friday to plan events in support of immigration reform, including an information campaign, media outreach, visits and calls to Congressional representatives, and community forums in Fresno and surrounding communities. Leading up to a May 1 march, there will be forums in locations throughout the Central Valley to educate the community about the proposed reform measures. These gatherings will take place in Dinuba, Madera, Hanford, Tulare, Mendota, Madera and Merced.

Progressive individuals and groups are encouraged to support these efforts and take action. Call your Congressional representatives-George Radanovich, 559-449-2490; Devin Nunes, 559-323-5235; and Jim Costa, 559-495-1620-as well as President Barack Obama, 866-956-3902. Ask for Immigration Reform Now!

For more information, contact the Union de Ex-Braceros e Inmigrantes (UNEI) at 559-266-5291 or 559-341-4556, the Binational Center for Oaxacan Indigenous Development/Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (CBDIO-FIOB) at 559-499-1178, the Comite Pro-Uno (CPU) at 559-497-0206, or the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) at 559-273-6459.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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