Immigration Policy on its Way to Equality

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A series of immigration and equal rights bills have steered their way into Gov. Brown’s office this year for approval, prompting community members to discuss next steps.

The Santa Cruz Democratic Party, the Democratic Women’s Club of Santa Cruz County and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hosted an immigration reform forum on Oct. 12 at the First United Methodist Church of Watsonville.

Moderated by Watsonville Mayor Lowell Hurst, the forum featured immigrant rights activist and award-winning photojournalist David Bacon and 30th district assemblyman Luis Alejo.

“Here in the U.S., our economic system depends on immigrants,” Bacon said. “I’m not saying that immigrants are the only workers here … We all need to work to put food on the table for our families. [But] without the labor of immigrants in this country, our economic system would stop.”

Forced migration is one of the root causes of why an estimated 3.6 million migrant workers come to the U.S. every year, Bacon said. Due to poor environmental or economic circumstances imposed by globalization, workers feel they have no other choice but to migrate.

“One of the most important movements in Mexico today is for the right to stay home,” Bacon said. “That is, for the right to an alternative to forced migration.”

When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994, 120,000 Mexican workers lost their jobs as a result of a U.S. pork company opening operations in Veracruz, Mexico, Bacon said. Slaughtering 1.2 million pigs a year, Smithfield Inc. turned the once “beautiful river valley” into “an ecological disaster,” he added.

Because of large U.S. companies like Smithfield making homes uninhabitable, workers are forced to pack up their belongings and uproot their lives to cross the U.S. border, Bacon said.

To address immigration policy, numerous bills have been passed during the last few weeks aiming to benefit the undocumented community. Assembly Bill 60 (AB60), authored by assemblyman Luis Alejo, gives immigrants the right to apply for a driver’s license. Assembly Bill 4 (AB4), co-authored by Alejo, prohibits police officers from holding immigrants in jail for minor offenses.

In addition to AB60 and AB4, Assembly Bill 10 (AB10), authored by Alejo, will raise the current minimum wage of $8 to $10 by January 2016, which benefits not only migrant workers holding low-wage jobs, but all low-wage workers in the state.

These are only a few of the reform policies mentioned at the forum, which altogether work to give immigrants in California equal rights. While Alejo is pleased with the passing of these bills, he emphasized participation at the community level for progress to continue.

“We have to work from the bottom up,” Alejo said.

Director of the Santa Cruz County Immigration Project (SCCIP) Doug Keegan and UC Santa Cruz graduate Angelica Maldonado, who identifies as undocumented, spoke as well, welcoming the public to partake in the discussion of immigration reform at the grassroots level.

Keegan encouraged forum attendees to get involved in helping the undocumented community by volunteering at the SCCIP office in Watsonville. SCCIP helps immigrants acquire legal status, reunites families and helps undocumented young adults apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), according to the SCCIP website.

DACA allows undocumented immigrants who migrated before the age of 16 to obtain a driver’s license, a Social Security card and permission to stay in the U.S. with work authorization.

Maldonado said she has a lot to be thankful for since her parents brought her to the U.S. at the age of 12. She attributes her opportunity to attend UCSC to AB540, a state law that allows qualified undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, rather than out-of-state tuition.

About 200 freshmen and transfers enrolled at UCSC this fall quarter with the help of AB540, almost double that of last year’s numbers, according to the campus’s Education Opportunity Program office.

Because of DACA, Maldonado was able to get a job in the bilingual department and career center at her former high school. She hopes to become an immigration attorney.

“Even though I don’t have proper documents, I don’t feel illegal,” Maldonado said. “Like how some people may see me.”


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