By Mark Skok
At perhaps the largest immigration forum ever in North County, some 800 area residents repeatedly shouted “Sí, se puede!” – Yes, we can! – when asked if they could drive reform through Congress.
The April 22 program was sponsored by the ACLU’s Nuestro Voto Nuestro Futuro, Justice Overcoming Boundaries, San Diego Day Laborers & Household Worker’s Association, and San Diego DREAM Team. The event was hosted by the Church of the Resurrection in North Escondido, and involved by several denominations.
The large meeting hall was packed, with people standing along the walls as they heard an update on immigration legislation, accounts of families impacted by arrest and deportation, and guidance for taking action to support reform.
“How many of us are willing to commit our time to fight for this cause?” the facilitator, Ema Flores, asked in Spanish. Hands throughout the hall shot up.
“So when do we want reform?”
“Can we do it?”
“Sí, se puede!”
Organizers then passed out a sheet of paper with a draft letter requesting that congressional representatives enact “just and compassionate comprehensive immigration reform.”
Participants were urged to call their senators. “For every call we make, legislators will receive 10 calls opposed to reform,” a student speaker said. “Ideally, all of you will call your legislators this evening, and leave a message telling them what you want.”
To illustrate the ease of contacting legislators, Flores placed an amplified call to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and left a message in Spanish. Then, to loud cheers and applause, one of the participants went to the podium and made his first call to a legislator.
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 was formally filed on the floor of the Senate shortly after 2 a.m April 17 by Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer, on behalf of eight Democratic and Republican senators who had crafted the 844-page bill. It provides a 10-year path to legal status for some 11 million people who have overstayed their visas or illegally entered the United States. Another three years would be required for citizenship.
“The pathway is too convoluted,” Homayra Yusufi, a policy advocate for the ACLU’s San Diego office, told the crowd. “And, before this pathway is even opened, the Department of Homeland Security must declare the border ‘secure.’”
The emphasis on border security concerns the ACLU and other progressives. “The bill allocates lots of money – at least $4.5 billion – for surveillance and fencing,” Homayra said. A plan must be developed for comprehensive surveillance along the entire border, and it calls for a 90 percent apprehension rate in high-crossing areas.
Yusufi is worried about the requirement that workers must prove they are continuously working, in order to qualify for citizenship. “This may give employers undue power over them.” And, she said, the E-Verify requirement creates privacy problems.
On the positive side, the bill establishes standards for the use of force by border patrol agents. Yusufi said “too many kids have been shot unnecessarily” as they attempted to cross into the United States. Also, the bill requires a program for cultural sensitivity training that must be established for the Border Patrol and other agencies.
The bill will be debated and amended in the Senate Judiciary Committee for the next several months before it goes to the Appropriations Committee. It likely will be August before a bill passes the Senate and moves on to the House. What happens there is anybody’s guess, she said.
Meanwhile, the morning after the rally, facilitator Ema Flores spoke with a tone of steely determination. “It was a great meeting,” she said. “We just need to keep pushing. I’ve waited a long time for this legislation, and we need to get it passed NOW.”
She said she is planning another immigration event for June. “And that one will be even larger.”