The Fight for Immigrant Rights Continues

Another City on the Hill Press article about Immigrant Rights and SIN.

By Mikaela Todd
Published May 20, 2010 at 2:48 am
Fight 4 Human Rights
http://www.cityonahillpress.com/2010/05/20/the-fight-for-immigrant-rights-continues/

State Senate Bill 1070 has opened up new discussion over old questions about illegal immigration, human and worker’s rights, and AB540 students, both nationwide and in Santa Cruz.

Arizona’s recently-passed SB1070 bill allows police officers to request identification and immigration papers from any person based on probable cause of undocumented status. Opponents are outraged, and the Latino community is particularly vocal in its concerns.

The circulating fear is that the new law will simply encourage officers to stop any nonwhite passersby, effectively allowing for racial profiling.

A Day for the Workers

Watsonville protest raises awreness about Arizona bill SB1070. Photo by Andrew Allio.A crowd of hundreds watches as a man climbs onstage, and listens as he grips the microphone, screaming, “We have to take the crisis — the attempt to take away our rights in Arizona — as an [opportunity] to fight back and stand up for what we believe in!” Supporters cheer him on, yelling slogans in Spanish and shaking their handmade signs with agitation.

Subsequent speakers acted as if the little time allotted were not enough to convey the importance of the issue at hand. Some forgot to leave space between their mouths and the microphone.

This is the scene at which, once again, people have gathered in Watsonville’s central plaza on May 1 to bring immigration and labor issues to the forefront and call to action California’s own political leaders in response to SB1070. May 1, or May Day — historically known as International Worker’s Day — is celebrated as a holiday in many nations worldwide, but has yet to catch on in the United States.

This year’s turnout in Watsonville was moderate, but as one of the speakers put it, “One person that comes out on May 1 is enough to send a clear and loud message to all the leaders of the world, saying we are sick and tired of laws like SB1070. We are here, and we’re not going anywhere.”

SB1070, the main issue at hand, requires that state agencies enforce federal immigration laws “if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”

Antonio Rivas, former mayor of Watsonville and current city councilman, called for a resolution when he spoke at the protest on May Day. He encouraged Watsonville’s city council to politically condemn SB1070.

“We are going to send the message to Arizona that we will not support this legislation,” Rivas announced on the podium. “The city council and the people have to stand together. It’s very important.”

May Day Summit 2010

The May Day Summit 2010 draws immigration supporters to UCSC. Photo by Andrew Allio.The UC Santa Cruz campus and Student Union Assembly (SUA) also supported their own May Day action in the form of an educational conference called May Day Summit 2010, in which panelists from local groups like the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 3299 union and Watsonville Brown Berets spoke about SB1070 and a path forward.

Jonathan Fox, a Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) professor and panelist at the May Day Summit, said there are reasons why the SB1070 passed specifically in Arizona, and explained that California can choose a different path towards immigration reform.

“Immigrants are less organized or have less elected officials in Arizona, so the [officials in Arizona] didn’t have a lot to fear in electoral terms,” Fox said.

He also pointed out the primary difference between Arizona and California’s electoral base — there is a strikingly larger young voter base in California.

In Arizona, reform towards a more pro-immigrant state is far less attainable than in California. Fox believes it can happen, especially within swing districts. He said it is important to participate in May Day protests and other public actions against political legislation like SB1070, but the main point for him is the importance of a vote — how political energy and passion are turned into power and influence in the political arena.

Claudia Magana, current commissioner of diversity for the SUA and one of May Day Summit’s main organizers, explained that she was excited to see awareness of SB1070 spreading. The bill has awakened outrage from advocates of undocumented immigrants.

“Immigration is the current civil rights movement,” Magana said. “As much as I am angry with Arizona, I want to say ‘thank you’ to them for igniting it.”

Nestor Rivera, an intern for the SUA, said political influence is being exerted through boycotts of Arizona’s businesses. The Santa Cruz city government is also being pushed to remain a sanctuary city, or one that protects undocumented workers. The Santa Cruz community has recently shown concern about the Santa Cruz Police Depatment’s partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal agency that locates, arrests, and deports illegal immigrants.

While the SCPD says that working with ICE is meant only to fight gang violence, many fear the agency will crack down on immigration, threatening Santa Cruz’s status as a sanctuary city.

After UC Berkeley was made a target for ICE raids, Berkeley — like other cities in California — made the switch to be a sanctuary city.

Section 287(g), a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act, says the federal government holds the right to enforce immigration laws, and may do so through local law enforcement agencies.

As a result of Berkeley citizens’ concern over students affected by raids, local agencies ceased to enforce federal immigration laws through section 287(g). This is, however, not a legally-bound promise.

At the 36th “Annual Labor and Immigration: Past and Present” Conference held May 7-8 at Oakes College, Chancellor George Blumenthal explained that AB540 students — undocumented students attending college — are currently under attack, and that has to change.

“We need AB540 students at this school,” Blumenthal said. “Some of them have amazing stories about coming across the border and then achieving success, and I think they should be proud of that.”

Comprehensive Immigration Reform

As a way of addressing the problem, Students Informing Now (SIN), a campus-based group of AB540 undocumented students and their allies, works on gaining legislative support for both the Dream Act and immigration reform. SIN also supports and works toward retaining AB540 students at UCSC.

Michelle Romero, a fourth-year from College Ten, is the current leader of SIN and also works with SUA as its legislative liaison.

“Every day that the federal government does not work to pass immigration reform, a piece of our American fabric unravels,” Romero said. “Things like Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 pass, and families live in fear of deportation, kids are afraid to go to school, workers work under exploitative conditions, and students without legal authorization can’t work even though they have a diploma.”

At the Summit, Romero spoke mostly about the federal government bill, titled the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security Act (CIR ASAP), which was introduced in the House by Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) in December of last year.

CIR ASAP provides for a Southern Border Security Task Force, increased health conditions in detention centers, employment verifications for employers, paths to legalization, an earned adjustment program, and incorporates the Dream Act.

The Dream Act, most important for students, creates an accelerated pathway to legalization for students who have graduated high school and completed at least two years of college, military service or employment.

Author Bill Ong Hing, who also spoke at the Immigration and Labor conference, said in his speech that the compromises made by Congress in CIR ASAP were too conciliatory.

“Senate democrats, their bill — the first two-thirds of it made me throw up,” Ong Hing said. “They are as bad as you can get in terms of — well, they call for a biometric identity card for all of us, high-tech ground sensors, border commission, and doubling of the ICE enforcement budget. And this is from the democratic side of the Senate.”

He did say that the last third part of the bill, mostly attributed to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), had good parts to it.

“The question is whether or not the country and U.S. Congress have the stomach to actually push this through,” Ong Hing said.

Monning on Human Rights

Assemblyman Bill Monning of the 27th district, which includes the city of Santa Cruz, also spoke at the conference and said there’s a third piece of the puzzle that nobody is paying attention to.

“Immigration rights, labor rights, and human rights are inseparable,” Monning said.

He explained that the immigrant workforce is a scapegoat for people to blame during this economic recession, as people blame the undocumented for drawing on social services and staying under the radar. In reality though, it’s the reverse.

Undocumented workers often use fake social security numbers to get jobs, which requires that they pay taxes just like every other worker. However, they frequently do not receive social services they are eligible for, out of fear of deportation.

Monning told a story about his work with the California Rural Legal Assistance for the Migrant Farm Worker Project in the early ’80s, and a case he dealt with that sums up the human rights issue.

Salinas Marketing, a local company, had 29 mostly undocumented workers taken into a cauliflower field only a few hours after it had been sprayed with pesticides, regardless of the minimum re-entry level of 36 hours.

“They got knocked down and seriously suffered the poisoning effects of these pesticides,” Monning said.

Only half of them drove to the hospital, while the other half went back to their labor camp, fearing deportation.

“They were all sickened and vomiting,” he continued. “At the hospital, they took [the other half of the workers] out into the parking lot, stripped them of their clothes, men and women and children, and hosed them down with fire hoses like animals to decontaminate them.”

Monning said it was unfortunate that this story is emblematic of a condition that still exists for immigrant farm workers today, and that human rights is an issue that should always be included in legislative reform.

Monning said, “What became clear through all of this was that while labor rights extend to all workers in California and the United States, the undocumented workforce and even those with green cards are compromised in their ability to try and enforce those labor rights.”

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