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Immigration reform critical to boosting U.S. economy

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent


Washington, D.C., Dec. 8, 2009: Even as a Health Care Reform bill faces gridlock in the U.S. Senate, activism for immigration reform is picking up momentum throughout the nation, and the controversial debate is expected to dominate Capitol Hill in 2010.


Chris Newman, Carlos Garcia, Marcela Diaz, Saket Soni, Julieta Garibay, Roberto Lovato,

U.S. Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), the Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force has introduced new legislation, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP), to the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 15, 2009.


In Arlington, VA.; U.S. Senator Robert Menéndez (D-New Jersey) rallied 350 activists at the 7th Low-income Immigration Rights Conference on Dec. 6-8, 2009, telling them fair and humane immigration reform is crucial for national security and is a viable economic recovery plan. 


“Comprehensive reform gets more workers paying taxes … we can help the economy and have immigration reform,” said Sen. Menéndez said.


He added that comprehensive reform must keep families together, protect workers rights, provide a path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented, eliminate backlogs for lawful residency applications, ensure humane treatment of detainees, prioritize immigrant integration, and enforce strategic border enforcement policy.


“It is a long list, but it is not a wish list, it is what we need to do, and that’s just in the short-term; long-term reform requires long-term solutions as well,” cautioned Sen. Menéndez.

Advocating for humane just reform

The National Immigrant Law Center hosts the conference every two years and brings community leaders, activists, and attorneys from the nation together to review success and discuss strategies to improve conditions for all immigrants. 


Executive Director Marielena Hincapié said NILC is committed to ensuring the rights of all immigrants; it advocates for fair wages, access to health care, and humane treatment of detainees in partnership with 15 agencies representing 33 states.

Marielena Hincapie, Director of National Immigration Law Center

She said NILC is staunchly following the healthcare debate to ensure immigrants have access to healthcare, and will fight any legislation that requires a 5-year residency bar.

The three day conference featured 48 strategy workshops where community leaders shared their successes, failures, and compared notes for future campaigns.


Dream Act: no-brainer

Hincapié added the organization is advocating complete reform of the immigration system and mobilizing support for legislation like the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors

(DREAM) Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D – Illinois).


The Dream Act will pave a path to citizenship for undocumented students who have completed high school, are of good moral standing and under the age of 35. Dreamers must obtain a college degree or serve two years in the military and apply their talents in the U.S. to be eligible for a 6 year Conditional Permanent Residency (CPR).


Tolu Olubnmi, Dream Fellow at NILC, said the bill has tremendous bi-partisan support and Pres. Barack Obama and Vice Pres. Joe Biden were both co-sponsors when they served in Senate.  “When we talk to representatives about this they are eager to support the bill and say it is a no-brainer,” said Olubnmi.

Nearly 65,000 undocumented students graduate U.S. high schools each year.


Some go on to receive graduate degrees but are unemployable due to their status. Julieta Garibay, moved to the states at age 5, completed high school, earned a Masters in Public Health Nursing and, despite extreme shortages of available nurses in the U.S., she cannot be employed.


Garibay tearfully shared her story and sought support for United We Dream movement led by thousands in the same situation. “We can assure you we’ll not stand by the sidelines, the United States cannot afford to lose these assets and we are determined to leave a mark in the land of free,” said Garibay.

The DREAM Act would provide immediate immigration relief for about 360,000 such young adults and another 715,000 children now in elementary or high school could qualify. A RAND study showed that a 30-year-old Mexican immigrant woman who graduates from college will pay $5,300 more in taxes and cost $3,900 less in government expenses each year than if she had dropped-out of high school. This amounts to an annual fiscal benefit of over $9,000 per person every year.

Roberto Lovato, Marcela Diaz, Julieta Garibay, Saket Sonia, Marielena Hincapie, Chris Newman, Carlos Garcia

Olubnmi said corporations, like Microsoft, are voicing their support for the Dream Act because they recognized the high skilled labor available to them but are unable to tap into because the sponsorship are costly and time consuming.  During the White House’s Job summit The CEOs of companies, including Intel, HP, Dell, and Cisco, sent a letter to President Obama last week listing high-skilled workers as a key to creating jobs.


Raising voices through social media

Chris Newman, Legal Director at National Day Laborer Organizing Network in Calif. said the rise in anti-immigrant moments must also be acknowledged, “Their single purpose is to make life so difficult that immigrants self-deport.”


Newman said these segments fail to recognize the role immigrants play in supporting the U.S. economy and to appease them the Obama administration has continued Bush-Cheney era enforcements raids that solidify to portray tough stance on national security.


Roberto Lovato, co-founder of Presente.org and commentator with new America Media said Latinos must begin to utilize social media sites like Facebook and blogs to counter misinformation in mainstream. Lovato began the campaign to strip Lou Dobbs of his platform at CNN. He said the campaign targeted Dobbs because they knew he was unpopular at CNN and the largest news agency needed access to the Latino market.


He encouraged advocates to create a Web presence; “immigrants must not leave media as an uncontested space,” he said. Lovato shared a clip of Dobbs calling him a flea and mocked, “Guess what happens when a lot of pulgas get together.”


Menéndez said the reform discussion will be a hard fought up-hill battle but is possible. “With a growing chorus in Congress, and with the leadership of President Obama, I believe we will achieve comprehensive immigration reform,” Menéndez said.


For more information and resources visit:  http://www.nilc.org/dc_conf/flashdrive09/Flash-Drive-Contents.htm





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