Immigrant Day 2011: Retrospectives
The following is a compilation of reflections on the meaning and importance of Immigrant Day….
A Woman’s Place…is in the Capitol, By Reshma Shamasunder
I am writing this as I pack my suitcase and laptop bag to go to Sacramento for the 15th annual Immigrant Day at the Capitol. Buzzing around me are my three daughters, ages 8, 5 and 1. They ask questions ranging from the mundane to the profound.
As I look at them, its clear to me why I am heading to the Capitol. Like any mom, I want to do everything I can to ensure their successful future as well as broaden the horizons for millions of young girls like them.
Fifteen years ago, long before my girls were born, immigrants from nearly every culture and community gathered for the first day at the Capitol. The goal was simple, to elevate a voice that had been silent for too long and to put a recognizable face on the California immigrant experience.
Today, there is a new face of the California immigrant, and it’s a woman’s face. In recent years, the number of women migrating to California has increased significantly. Our work at the Capitol this week will reflect this new reality.
Among our top concerns are issues of family unity, protections for domestic workers and support for victims of domestic violence. These are critical issues in every family, but in immigrant families they take on even greater importance.
Moms are the glue of families in every culture. In California, whether a mom is from Latin America, Asia or Eastern Europe, the idea of separation is unthinkable. That’s why as part of our efforts, we will work on legislation that protects the family and supports efforts to keep them whole instead of fracturing them through deportation.
We will also be working to increase protections for domestic workers. Domestic workers provide support for working families and our aging population. However, these workers are too often mothers with children who have no legal protections in the workplace. That leaves them and their children open to financial and occupational hazards.
Finally, we are working on ways to support immigrant victims of domestic violence. Just last month, the LA Times reported on a mom with a young child who was afraid to dial 9-1-1 while being beaten by her partner. Her fears were realized when she finally did call for help…and then the deportations proceedings began. We must not force our moms to choose between safety and security.
We are one California representing many peoples. As I head to the Capitol, I will hug my girls knowing that I’m carrying on a legacy that began fifteen years ago and one that I know will help us to create a stronger California for all of us.
Reshma Shamasunder is Director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, a statewide immigrant rights organization that advances inclusive policies to build a prosperous future for all Californians
Blog: Immigrant Day 2011 Retrospective, By Stewart Kwoh
This month, we celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of Immigrant Day, a statewide advocacy day organized to champion immigrant integration in our community. Since the very first Immigrant Day in Sacramento, many things have changed, some for the worse and some for the better. For the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) immigrant community, the past 15 years have been marked by great victories but also great challenges.
To understand how far we’ve come, it’s necessary for us to look back in time. 1996 was a challenging year for immigrants. The passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PWRORA) made many immigrants ineligible for federal welfare programs, gutting the safety net for low-income immigrants. Some in Congress tried to dismantle key family-based immigration provisions, a cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy, to further restrict the amount of family members that would be eligible to immigrate to the country. APALC was also embroiled in a legal battle on behalf of trafficked Thai garment workers, who were forced to sew behind barbed wire and under armed guard in El Monte, California.
In response to these challenges, advocates stepped up to the plate. The California Immigrant Welfare Collaborative (CIWC), made up of key immigrant rights organizations including APALC, was formed to advocate on behalf of immigrants. During its first few years, CIWC helped establish or expand a number of state programs to replace lost federal cash, nutrition and health benefits from PWRORA’s passage – creating such programs as the California Food Assistance Program and the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants. California became the first state to restore many needed benefits for eligible immigrants, seniors, children and the disabled, and ultimately restored more lost benefits than any other state.
APALC also won its battle against the trafficked workers’ captors, and against the garment industry manufacturers and retailers for whom they sewed. Not only did APALC win in the courtroom, the workers won. These enslaved workers were allowed to remain in the U.S., and many even became U.S. citizens. And since this case, the U.S. government instituted the T-Visa, creating a path to citizenship for trafficked immigrant workers and ensuring that victims would not be placed into deportation proceedings upon being freed from their captors.
Now, 15 years later, some challenges remain and new challenges have emerged. Although advocates were able to stave off devastating changes to the family immigration system in 1996, today the system still remains fundamentally broken and in need of a major overhaul. Thousands of applicants are waiting in tremendous processing backlogs. For example, Filipino, Indian and Chinese immigrants must wait for more than 10 years to reunite with their loved ones abroad. Many Muslim, Arab and South Asian Americans have suffered rampant discrimination and hate following the attacks on 9/11. Consider the passage of SB 1070, Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, which has spawned copycat legislation in more than 20 other states. And we have yet to achieve fair and just comprehensive immigration reform.
Despite these challenges, I know that AAPIs will only continue to grow and thrive, and become more integrated into the larger community. Since 1996, AAPI communities have burgeoned in size and in power. Recent Census figures show that our community comprises 15.5 percent of the state’s population, growing by 33.6 percent in the last decade. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have also become citizens, and many of them new voters. Looking to the future, it is unrealistic to believe that the country’s immigration issues will be corrected immediately. But with Immigrant Days this year and in more to come, hopefully we will work together to create a better future for immigrants.
Stewart Kwoh is the founding President and Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California (APALC), a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. Started in 1983, APALC has become a key advocate for poor and limited English proficient APAs in Southern California, as well as in California and the United States. Today, APALC reaches more than 15,000 individuals and organizations each year through a variety of strategies, including direct services, impact litigation, policy and advocacy, and leadership development.
Turning of the Tide, 15 years of Immigrant Day in California, By Teresa Castellanos
To me immigrant day means a political space that was claimed, triumphant and recognized. I remember that California had passed proposition 187, Pete Wilson had been reelected with his anti-immigrant rhetoric and the immigrant community felt under attack in 1994 so people were scared when welfare reform passed. In 1996, the US government passed welfare reform. At that point, welfare reform meant two things, 1) that the safety net was not longer a lifetime guarantee for children because there would be time limits for families receiving this assistance. 2) As a nation, we were making a distinction between the rights of the US born to a safety net and the rights of the foreign born. During the first couple of years of Welfare reform, the majority of the money that was “saved” was based on what was taken away from permanent residents mainly SSI, food stamps and the right to welfare. The sentiment of the time was that the people immediately impacted were not US citizens so national representatives had nothing to lose in supporting this anti-immigrant portion of the legislation.
I remember that as Santa Clara County, we tried to respond to the panic in the community and we had a citizenship day in which over 5,000 people showed up. Many people arrived in their hospital beds, or wheel chairs with their oxygen tanks. People were stressed and panicked about what the future held. Senior across the country were committing suicide because they would not be able to live without SSI. I remember at that time period, Catholic Charities struggled to finger print an elderly woman for a week who had severe arthritis and wanted to apply for citizenship. After a week of trying to get her fingerprints, they were finally able to get legible finger prints on Friday and she died on Saturday. It made all the service providers so sad that she had spent her last week of life anxiety ridden about fingerprints that would not be used.
After all that stress in the immigrant community for over 9 months, the first Immigrant day was held in Sacramento. My memory of that day was a huge mass of people that came together to lobby. Labor and immigrant communities organized a massive multicultural and multilingual march. At that point I had been and organizer for 10 years. I had participated in Watsonville with the canary workers strike, I had been involved with Justice for Janitors. So I had been in big marches in which there was diversity. But this time it was bigger…there were many languages being spoken not just two. I heard Hmong for the first time. The Hmong community from central valley was disciplined and militant. There were buses of Chinese seniors.
Children, Seniors and union workers descended on the capital to demand justice. After so many months of individual fear there was a feeling of hope, commitment and demand for dignity. The halls of the state capital truly represented the ethnic and language make up of the state. Simultaneous translations took place as community members met with their representatives. Diverse communities realized that they had more in common than differences and that together they had power. There was a buzz of joy as people had their lunches on the capitol lawn and spoke about how they had met with their representatives.
To me the first immigrant lobby day was the beginning of turning the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment in the state of California. After that lobbying event and the follow up lobby events, the state of California created special safety net programs for immigrants that did not qualify for the federal programs, the federal government had to back track in regard to SSI and put back immigrants into the SSI, and communities began to actively promote citizenship and voting. But more importantly the immigrant community brought its knowledge of democracy, mobilization and people power to the state capital and California representatives had to listen. Immigrants once again made history by following the American tradition of the demanding to be included and they were heard.
Of course, currently it is a hard time for everyone, and immigrants in particular face unique challenges in terms of understanding the system, accessing the safety net and dealing with language barriers, but in the state of California there is a diverse immigrant leadership that is organizing, mobilizing and providing leadership on the level that does not exist in any other state of the union. It is happening in every county of the state, rural&urban, small and large and this leadership has been growing and contributing for over 15 years. With this leadership that has now spread into the AB540 movement, there is no doubt that California will positively influence the development of immigrant integration, multicultural access, and the building of community within diversity in the rest of the country.
Teresa Castellanos is the Immigrant Relations&Integration Services Program Coordinator for Santa Clara County.
California Immigrant Day 1994 – Day of Reflection and Action Supporting Dignity of Immigrants, by Tessa Rouverol Callejo, Julie Gilgoff, Deborah Lee.
In early 1994, a recently organized coalition of Northern California faith community organizations concerned about the rising anti-immigrant sentiment and multiple legislative proposals aiming to deny immigrants access to vital services, put out a call to faith and immigrant leaders to come to Sacramento for a day of reflection and action in support of the dignity of immigrant communities. The response was far greater than what its organizers had envisioned. This first Immigrant Day on February 23, 1994 brought more than 500 people from all parts of California. Fifty percent of participants, if not more, were first generation, recent immigrants from congregations around California. Most folks had never been to Sacramento, and had never met with a legislator.
The event successfully brought those who were directly impacted by proposals in Sacramento to tell their stories to California legislators and putting a human face to the issues and engaging them in dialogue. It was a day of prayer and action, for immigrant leaders to tell their stories, and for their diverse allies to a public moral commitment to stand against xenophobia reflected in bills in the legislature and Proposition 187 on the ballot later that year.
The outpouring of participation at that initial event gave impetus to the forming of a statewide coalition called the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, and that first event became a model for future Immigrant Days.
In 1996, CIPC made immigrant day an annual tradition. Since then, ICIR has continued to mobilize faith and immigrant community leaders to come to the event, organized the inter-religious service, provided leadership development training, and participated in delegations to legislators. The event is the one statewide annual immigrant community-focused event in Sacramento that brings together immigrant communities and allies to advocate for just policies for immigrants and long term residents alike.
Submitted by the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (CLUE) written by Tessa Rouverol Callejo, Julie Gilgoff, Deborah Lee.
My View from the Steps of the Capitol - A reflection on 15 years of Immigrant Day in California, By Angie Wei
Fifteen years ago, on the first Immigrant Day in Sacramento, I remember standing on the Capitol steps. I stood there worried, what if no one showed up?
That fear melted away as I saw a group of Hmong immigrants approach the Capitol from one side. Then I turned to see Russian immigrants approaching from another side, Latinas from across the street, and so many other communities converging on the capitol. We were impressive.
As we prepared our advocates for the first-ever Immigrant Day, I recall working with my fellow leaders and deciding to scrap our formal talking points and encourage our allies instead to speak from their heart–to share their stories.
The legislative response was overwhelmingly positive and we’ve tried to take that approach ever since. When we talk about the real immigrant experience and share ways to make California a better place for everyone, we win.
Advocating for immigrants fifteen years ago required great courage from communities around the state. Back then we were fighting the anti-immigrant policies of Pete Wilson. We worked together to push back as Congress turned its back on immigrants, denying food stamps and SSI and health care benefits to documented and undocumented immigrants. California, home to nearly half of the nation’s immigrants, had to respond and restore this safety net for those who needed it most. We faced a very hostile climate and were fighting against ignorant and regressive policies.
Today, the challenges before us are of a very different nature. Despite overheated rhetoric from our opponents, we have the opportunity to push a forward-looking, progressive and proactive agenda. This year, we’re advocating for the DREAM Act, which helps eliminate barriers for students seeking to access higher education. We have come a long way from Prop 187, but we still have a ways to go.
Immigrants have fundamentally reshaped California and have had a positive impact on our state. We create jobs, we help build the new economy, and we provide the core of our state’s community, civic and economic life. It was when the national AFL-CIO officially changed its policies on immigrant workers embraced this value, and focused on organizing immigrant workers that I wanted to join the Labor Movement.
Fifteen years ago, I was no less certain that we were on the right track than I am today. We may have been a bit frightened about the challenges facing immigrant communities in 1996, but we found that by building a movement, standing up for ourselves and not being afraid of the consequences, we could fundamentally alter our future and the future of California for the better. I am so proud to have played a small role in making this a reality.
Looking forward, we have the responsibility to lead the way and spread the message that we are all in this together. We can encourage and engage our opponents to move beyond the fear mongering and have a real conversation about how we build One California consisting of many peoples. Together we can improve the labor market and create jobs, together we can promote health and safety in our workplace, and together we can create a California that works for all of us.
Angie Wei is the legislative director for the California Labor Federation.
Immigration: The American Experience, By Michael Yaki
Immigration is part of the American experience. It imbues everything that makes us who we are as a nation: from the landing at Plymouth Rock, to the Africans chained in slave ships to the American south, to the Chinese laborers who helped build the Transcontinental Railroad, and the braceros who helped transform American agriculture. Thomas Edison and Sonia Sotomayor were the children of immigrants. Yo-yo Ma came to our shores when he was five years old. We are all, by birth or blood, the children of immigrants.
Every succeeding generation brings something to our country, contributes in unique and wonderful ways. What binds us together as a nation has always been the fact that we have accepted immigrants with open arms and open hearts. It is why we, alone of all the great nations on this earth, have not had to face the crises of ethnic and nationalistic strife, where the memories of wrongs committed by generations past do not haunt the present and the future of our land.
And the only way we can remain strong, can remain united is if we do everything we can as individuals, as communities, as a nation not to inflame and demonize immigration. The California that passed Prop 187 in 1994 is not the California of 2012. It is more than numbers, though Latino voters now make up twice the number of registered voters than they did 18 years ago. It is because, in even greater proportion, how we view ourselves as Californians has changed. We are a California that would not pass a Prop 187 today, nor contemplate an Arizona SB 1070. In other words, we have witnessed exactly how every generation of Americans has helped to change the way we see ourselves as a country. Patience it seems, is the greatest virtue in terms of how we as a nation assimilate and incorporate change. Patience, in the end, outruns fear.
It would be wonderful if there were no 16th annual Immigrant Day, because it would mean that the need to educate public policymakers on the virtues of immigration were unnecessary. But that seems unlikely as many in the U.S. Congress continue to debate, defer, and demonize on the issue of immigration. So it remains vitally important for legislators in California to understand that in their public debate, in their private speeches, support for immigrants is important today, tomorrow, and until the day when community groups no longer feel the need to declare it time for yet another Immigrant Day in California.
Michael Yaki is the former senior advisor to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Director of the San Francisco Public Employees Retirement (SFPERS) Fund. He was also appointed by then-Minority Leader Pelosi to the United States Commission on Civil Rights in 2005, and in 2008, he was named as the National Platform Director for the Obama for America campaign.