By: Patricia Diaz, Executive Director and Priya Murthy, Policy and Organizing Director at Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN) in San Jose
This month, we celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whose dream of equality and human rights changed the course of history. His legacy is remembered by people of all colors and creeds who believe in the American Dream and who continue his fight for fairness, justice and human dignity. Dr. King was pivotal in challenging deeply entrenched laws that defined the rights of Americans by the color of their skin and ushering in policy reforms that transformed the civil rights landscape.
In the spirit of Dr. King and the struggles and sacrifices of the African American community, we continue the fight for civil rights today in our call for long-overdue immigration reform. Just as Jim Crow laws established a separate America, both literally and figuratively, for African Americans, our country’s current immigration system creates a heartbreaking alternate reality for immigrants – one filled with grief from being separated from loved ones simply based upon where they come from.
In Santa Clara County, immigrants make up over one-third of the population. In fact, our County has the most diverse and largest immigrant population within California. Yet the American Dream of being able to support themselves and enjoy security in their lives is out of reach for too many – including the 180,000 undocumented immigrants in the County. These individuals – who are American in every sense of the word except on paper – experience an America where parents are deported, workers are subject to exploitation, and families are afraid to access basic services for their children.
This past year, Santa Clara County activists mobilized to change this by calling on Congress to put immigration reform up for a vote through highly visible actions. Tens of thousands of supporters came out for massive marches on May Day and the October 5th National Day for Dignity and Respect. A Table for Justice was set on Thanksgiving Eve in San Jose to show the devastating effects massive deportations are having on immigrant families and in December, 25 local elected officials and community leaders sacrificed their bodies in rolling fasts in solidarity with the nationwide Fast for Families campaign.
As a result of continued pressure like this from activists throughout the country, the Senate passed its immigration reform bill last summer. And while the Senate bill is a promising start, it is far from ideal, given its strong emphasis on border enforcement. Unfortunately, we saw little to no action towards a meaningful solution from House leadership and despite the valiant efforts of our local members of Congress, 2013 closed without a compromise or permanent solution to our broken immigration system.
Now, with Congress back in session, we see promising political conditions as Speaker John Boehner and House leaders once again vowed to make immigration reform a top priority.
2014, finally, could be the year.
Speaker Boehner announced this month that leaders will present a set of principles for an immigration reform overhaul. Although it is not a bill, it is a first step and presents a crucial opportunity to remind Congress that a permanent solution will not happen without a bill that provides an achievable path to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans, keeps families together by strengthening “right to reunite” programs for future immigrants, and protects the rights of all workers, immigrant and native-born alike.
Every day Congress fails to act is another day when over 1,100 families’ dreams are ripped apart by senseless deportation, and we will do whatever it takes to stop it. We will continue to push Congress and the Administration to stop the deportations of people who would otherwise be on a path to citizenship and push for a real solution.
So, as we remember Dr. King’s dream that all people be treated equally, fairly, and humanely, let us remain empowered and recommit our advocacy on behalf of all immigrants and their families.
This post was written by Patricia Diaz