Article on Immigrant Rights and Pro-Immigrant Coalition Challenges

I was asked to write an article for the Daily Bulletin based on a presentation that I made at a recent immigrant rights conference.  This was written over a week ago but just published.  Here is the article:


Challenges for pro-immigrant coalitions

By Jose Zapata Calderon

Posted: 05/23/2013 10:01:08 AM PDT
Updated: 05/23/2013 10:40:12 AM PD

The recent legislative proposals around immigration did not arise out of a top-down process but are related to the changing demographics and the growing political power in our communities. In the 2008 and the 2012 elections, we witnessed the rise of multi-racial coalitions that clearly were the foundations of Obama’s victories.The African American, Latino, and Asian Pacific American communities backed Obama by huge margins. Nationally, in the last election, nonwhite voters made up 28 percet of all voters, up from 26 percent in 2008. Obama won 80 percent of these voters, the same as four years ago. Labor was part of this coalition and came out strongly for Obama.

The best strategy that these combined forces have been able to advance has been one that has organized at the local, state and national levels.

The Pomona Habla coalition, on a local level, is an example of a coalition that has taken a local issue about immigrant rights and connected it to policy changes statewide (while building support to change immigration policies nationally). These statewide efforts led to the passage of a bill restricting local police from impounding cars at traffic checkpoint simply because a driver is unlicensed.

On a state level, it is no coincidence that California now has moved in the direction of supporting undocumented immigrant initiatives. It was not that long ago that the voters supported Proposition 187, Prop. 209, and English-only

policies in California. Today, in addition to the majority of voters supporting legalization, bills have been passed that support the right of cities to opt out of E-Verify and the right of undocumented students to attend college with financial aid. Presently, there is broad support for a bill that would give a California driver’s license to any person who shows payment of taxes, regardless of immigration status.

It is the character of the work of these grass-roots coalitions in both organizing and turning out the vote that now can ensure legislation on a federal level that rewards (not criminalizes) the 12 million undocumented immigrants who contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year through their labor, businesses, taxes and purchasing power.

In the new proposals being discussed in the Senate, while support can be harnessed for policies that will ensure an expedited citizenship path for those immigrants who were brought to this country as children (regardless of their age) and agricultural workers, there is an overall need to advocate for a speedier process that results in the immediate legalization of the 4.2 million who have been waiting in line (some up to 20 years) and fight for a speedier process for the legalization of the other 12 million. This means the allocation of funds for processing and not for enforcement, taking the millions being proposed for more fence and more border officers and using it for a more efficient means of doing away with the backlog, and doing away with anyone having to move to the back of the line and waiting anywhere from 13 years to a lifetime (until the border is supposedly 95 percent secure). It means supporting immigration rights for same-sex couples, as part of keeping families united, and ensuring the right of LGBTQ partners here to petition for their immigrant partners to be able to join them in the U.S.

In learning lessons from the past, it will be important to advance the unity of pro-immigrant coalitions and not give in to those politicians and organizations which claim that any kind of legalization will lead to a loss of jobs for residents. The UCLA research by Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda shows that the legalization of the 12 million undocumented workers alone would raise wages, increase consumption, create new jobs, generate new tax revenue, and add about $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product over the next 10 years. Furthermore, it would raise the wage floor for native-born workers and naturalized immigrants alike.

Our communities have to be careful of the proposals by conservative politicians, including Marco Rubio, who propose a temporary worker program, like the bracero program, that is nothing more than a legal means of exploiting workers, paying them low wages with few benefits, shipping them back before they can be organized, and exploiting their cheap labor as part of breaking unions both here and abroad.

Overall, the challenge that these coalitions will face is to advance unity between immigrant and labor organizations, seeing no contradiction between taking up local issues (such as organizing against racial-profiling Secure Communities programs), supporting state level policies such as driver’s licenses for the undocumented, organizing together on a national level against enforcement-only policies, and supporting human rights policies that will immediately lead to permanent residency and citizenship, with no expansion of temporary guest worker (bracero) programs and with labor law protections.

Jose Zapata Calderon is president of the Latino and Latina Roundtable of San Gabriel and Pomona Valley, and a Pitzer College professor emeritus of sociology and Chicano studies.

Daily Bulletin

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