“We’re on a bill that would essentially secure the executive order that’s already signed,” said Rep. Kaptur, a reference to an order signed by President Barack Obama on June 15, 2012, which allows those who entered the country as children whose parents or caretakers were without documentation (or overstayed their visas) to remain and work without fear of deportation for at least two years.
Ms. Kaptur received heavy criticism from northern Ohio Latinos during the March primary race, which pitted her against long-time Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland). Ms. Kaptur voted against a 2010 version of the DREAM Act, while Kucinich supported it. At the time, Ms. Kaptur pointed out that “every group should be treated fairly,” and “no one should be given special privilege and no one should be singled out and targeted.”
The FLOC founder and president, speaking by phone from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte where he is a first-time delegate, stated the conversation in the nation’s capital was wide-ranging, but centered on immigration-related issues.
“That was a great conversation. Gutiérrez is very insightful on these issues, understanding the Puerto Rican labor issues,” said Velásquez. “He’s been on board with this stuff for quite some time so it was a good round-robin conversation.”
At the same time, the head of the migrant farmworkers’ union took partial blame and even some responsibility for Rep. Kaptur’s viewpoint on the DREAM Act.
“To me, it’s just a question of evolving people’s thinking, and a lot of times it has to do with people not having enough or correct information. It’s really on us, the advocates, to get people, to convince them to be on our side on stuff and I think that’s the case with this situation,” said Velásquez. “I know Marcy’s heart and her heart is in a right and good place with labor and minorities and it’s just a question of getting the right information into her hands over a period of time.”
According to FLOC’s leader, Ms. Kaptur now fully understands the impact of the DREAM Act as it relates to immigration as a whole and his group’s quest to obtain amnesty for undocumented migrant farm workers and others.
“So, to me, the DREAM Act deals with a segment of a population that has been deeply exploited-- and that’s where we need to focus attention,” said Rep. Kaptur. “I’ve fought for that my entire career.”
Thousands of young Latinos flocked on August 15, 2012 outside help centers and lawyers’ offices across the United States to begin applying for relief from deportation. They took advantage of one of the biggest immigration policy changes in years. As many as 1.7 million youths may qualify for the program, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.
That ‘misunderstanding’ may be a symptom of a larger problem facing Toledo’s Latino community: the lack of local advocacy for Latino-related causes and legislation.
“I think a lot of us were negligent in making sure that elected officials get educated about immigration issues that impact our families and there's not enough Latino grass-roots organizations to make that happen,” said Velásquez. “Look how long it took the civil-rights movement to convince legislators and other folks who didn’t live that experience to bring the public opinion around.”
But tying the DREAM Act to immigration, labor, and trade issues has seemed to get the congresswoman fired up about the cause.
“The real problem is the trafficking of labor across this continent. That’s the biggest issue we have to face,” said Rep. Kaptur. “If we dealt with that and labor was treated with the full rights they deserve, we wouldn’t need any additional acts, because we would have recognized their right to a decent wage and a fair labor contract across this continent. They wouldn’t be trafficked-- and that issue is not yet being addressed.”
The congresswoman was quick to point out it’s not just an issue related to migrant farmworkers, but many of northern Ohio’s Latino and other immigrant families.
Under NAFTA, workers “essentially have no rights”
“Hotel workers, restaurant workers, meat packers, bakery workers, people who clean the buildings-- all this under-the-table hiring that’s being done across this country, which resulted from NAFTA and trade agreements like that where workers essentially have no rights and that is at the heart of what is wrong,” she said. That’s the biggest issue to crack and I know how tough that is.”
“That comes right out of some of our discussions. Legalizing workers is the first step, because whether those workers are documented or not, citizens or not, the inequities in the economic relationship is something that’s got to be addressed,” said Velásquez. “I was raised as a farmworker. I was an American citizen-- and that did not keep me from being exploited when I was being raised by my mom and dad out in those fields.”
While the congresswoman declined to comment on a recent raid on Northwest Ohio IHOP restaurants, the alleged recruitment and use of undocumented immigrants by the restaurant’s owner and managers serves as a glaring example of what can and does happen. But her ire also is directed at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“What ICE agents ought to be going after are the labor coyotes who traffic people-- and we as a country ought to stand up for the rights of workers,” said Rep. Kaptur. “So what they’re doing is they're picking on the people who’ve been exploited. They’re not going after the people who are making millions and millions and millions of dollars off their sweat.
Velásquez and Rep. Kaptur may have more opportunity to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, where both are representing Toledo as delegates. The FLOC founder and president looks at the convention as a learning opportunity as well.
“There’s a lot of things I don’t know about the internal mechanisms of political parties, operations and work. My role is to find out what opportunities there are to bring greater representation to the farmworkers and the Latino community-- what we can do to better organize the Latino community,” said Velásquez. “It’s got to end up with more representation, more ground organizations, more democratically-built organizations for Latinos, because those are going to be the vehicles that drive participation in the future.”
Editor’s Note: The DREAM Act and DREAM action applications are part of the dialogue and panel discussion at the September 13, 2012 event at the Believe Center and co-hosted by FLOC.