Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Immigrant Day in California

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.
Read more at the California Progress Report.  Here.

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