Wednesday, April 30, 2008

MAY DAY; Immigrants Rights

April 30, 2008

Op-Ed for L.A. Daily News
By: Nativo V. Lopez, National President,
Mexican American Political Association (MAPA)
The immigrant vote will increase to unstoppable heights in four short years across California's political landscape, a veritable big-foot electorate, according to a recently released study commissioned by the Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees. Fully one-third of California voters by 2012 will be comprised of immigrant voters - naturalized U.S. citizens and permanent residents eligible for citizenship - and their teenage U.S.-born children. The implications of even greater growth for Los Angeles city and county are abundantly clear.

So why do we march this MAY DAY considering these very promising demographic projections? If history teaches us anything it clearly demonstrates that numbers alone do not translate into political power. The political muscle necessary to make substantive policy changes favorable to immigrant working families devolves from organization of the numbers exercised repeatedly towards very specific ends. And the oxygen pumping up those muscles is civic education plus experience.

Today we continue to wage costly battles over too many issues related to the social well-being of our families. The list is long, and much remains as a legacy of the nasty 1990s in California - denial of the driver's license, higher education, financial aid, healthcare access, business and professional licenses, employment authorization - on the one hand, and overt forms of state terror on the other hand - wanton work-place and neighborhood raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE, the arbitrary impounding of vehicles, which constitutes the outright seizure of a personal asset, facilitated by a growing number of police check-points in multiple jurisdictions, and the increased cooperation between ICE and local police authorities throughout the country. The most recent example is the Arizona legislature's approval of legislation mandating local law enforcement involvement in enforcing immigration laws. The state's governor vetoed it.

Notwithstanding a decade of political gains and increased electoral representation for Latinos, in particular, at all levels of government, we have not secured sufficient political strength to curb the practices mentioned above. Although, the prospect of these issues being resolved in favor of immigrants and their children within one more presidential term is highly probable if the numbers coalesce politically at the ballot box and in the street. In others words, it is not the vote juxtaposed to street heat. Both tactics are absolutely relevant to any credible social movement for change, although the change is not an iron-clad guarantee.

Take the city of Los Angeles as an example. The composition of the city council and mayor's office is an embodiment of diversity and liberalism - the greatest number of Latinos, blacks, Democrats, gays, and liberal Jews probably ever in the history of the city. Yet, the city is not as friendly to immigrants as one might think. Immigrant raids continue to abound, vehicles are regularly impounded, sweat-shops are more the norm than the exception, the poverty index remains high, the city is no longer considered a sanctuary as once touted by Mayor Tom Bradley in the 1980s, more then 94 percent of the private work-force is not represented by a union or enjoys a collective bargaining agreement, the city's schools are a laboratory of failure for immigrant youth, and the prevalence of gangs is greater today than a generation ago, disproportionately concentrated in immigrant neighborhoods. This is why we continue to march.

May 1st is a shout out not just to the adversaries of the immigrant's social integration and progress. It's footprint on California's political map will only get bigger. But, it is just as much a shout out internally to the immigrants themselves that shares the story of Lucy Gonzalez de Parsons, Albert Parsons, and the others of Chicago's Haymarket Martyrs in the fight for the eight-hour day during the 1880s, who with the vast majority of other immigrant workers of European national origin stock led the movement to improve the conditions of life and work for all workers, and as a result made America a better place to live. Ironically, however, black, Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese workers remained in even more inferior stations and were forced to create their own segregated organizations to contend with the challenges of the day.

The lesson to working people today is that nothing changes without a fight, a struggle, and a purposeful movement by collections of people with a common cause. And if they don't pursue their dream in an organized fashion, life goes on as before and they remain as objects of history, not subjects.

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