By Sarai Ramos Gonzalez and Stan Santos
The movement for human rights in the face of natural and man-made disasters has brought us to a moment of reflection, discussion and cautious action. Under the new reality, we must develop new strategies to keep the march for justice moving forward.
El Comité No Nos Vamos
In 1986, a dramatic change came in the form of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Signed by President Ronald Reagan, it led to the legalization of approximately 2.7 million formerly undocumented. It is believed that around a million of those who were granted legal status under the IRCA eventually became U.S. citizens.
The incentive for the IRCA was that undocumented families living in the shadows have children who would suffer poorer health, education and social outcomes than others. But subsequent generations lift themselves out of poverty and contribute to the productive capacity of the country. The IRCA also reinforced sanctions for hiring undocumented workers.
The Comité No Nos Vamos was founded in Fresno sometime after the IRCA around 1990. Most of the members were undocumented, hence the expression, “Aqui estamos y no nos vamos, y si nos echan, regresamos” (“We are here to stay, if they deport us we will return”). The core group was Leonel Flores, Gloria Hernandez, Polo Chavez, and Arturo and Lucina Garcia. Many others would come and go.
During the same period, Rufino Dominguez was building the foundation for the Frente Indigena Oaxaqueno Binacional (FIOB), which would advocate for the thousands of indigenous workers residing in the Central Valley from the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
At least one of the marches organized by the Comite (altogether with other organizations) in 2006 reached numbers above 10,000 and flowed like a river of humanity taking up all of Kings Canyon Road from Chestnut Avenue to downtown and Fresno City Hall.
The backlash to the last mass legalization of immigrants came in 1996 under Democratic President Bill Clinton in the form of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Suddenly, anyone who was in the country “illegally” was prosecuted under the “terrorist” statutes including a little girl by the name of Ana Rivera.
But the movement for immigrants’ rights continued forward under Democratic and Republican administrations. Today, 11 million–13 million undocumented men, women and children remain in the United States, under worsening conditions. And the influx of refugees from years of war in Central America and climate change has increased.
The Comité No Nos Vamos became the Comité Primero de Mayo, and now the Coalición Primero de Mayo. We must repeat history and combat new forms of racism at the highest levels of government, coupled with powerful media disinformation campaigns. Large portions of the public react with base instincts, fear and hatred, rather than their hearts, with increasing undercurrents espousing violence.
Today, we also must contend with the coronavirus or Covid-19—another foreign-born menace that immediately worsens existing fears and suspicions of “people and things from other places.”
We continue the process of nurturing the hopes and hearts of the people while educating the public. The future of the United States rests on the unity of different cultures, languages and people.
The “Virtual March”
On May 1, the tradition of supporting the rights of immigrants will continue. The march must assume new forms, but the struggle remains the same. There will be a caravan with live video from 5 p/m. to 7 p.m. Register at www.crowdcast.io/e/1b26x8um.
We will broadcast presentations on immigrant rights, labor rights, education, health and resources for immigrants during Covid-19.
The global pandemic Covid-19 has highlighted that immigrants’ work is essential for the economic sustainability of California’s Central Valley agricultural industry, as well as for food security in times of crisis.
Covid-19 has exposed the discrimination and violation of the human and civil rights of immigrants. Now more than ever is the time to unite in solidarity with workers who cannot stay at home so others can have food on the table.
For more information, call 559 776-6642 or visit Facebook: Coalición Primero de Mayo por los Derechos de los Inmigrantes.
Saraí Ramos Gonzalez is a 22-year-old Mixteca from Farmersville. She recently received a B.A. in Chicano studies. She is currently a community worker for a community-based organization in Fresno. Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. Contact him at email@example.com.