Sunday, May 11, 2014

Our Families Can't Wait - Alma Lopez

Our Families Can’t Wait.
In late January, a group of Dream Activists and young supporters in Arizona and other regions near the border met to analyze the campaigns of 2013 and to propose alternative strategies. They issued an open letter calling for a “practical legislative solution for immediate relief for families,  even if it doesn’t include a special path to citizenship" and urged supporters to engage in an aggressive campaign for a presidential executive order  to end deportations of family members of U.S. citizens. (Full text of the letter can be found here:

 In January to get a sense of this viewpoint I interviewed Alma Lopez, an activist in Sacramento.  Alma had co-presented with me the workshop on immigration at the DSA national convention.
What do you think has been the effect of immigrant rights activism on young people?
“Young people have been playing a major role, along with students and the immigrants community members.  In Sacramento we have been coordinating with people in Northern and Southern California, with people who have been arrested in protests against ICE and deportations.”  
“The civil disobedience and the arrests, have played a major role in telling the community, and the general public, how important it is to keep families together and to come up with a policy that is fair and just for everybody.”

How has your own viewpoint developed as you participated in the immigrants’ rights movement?
“I have seen how there are a lot of groups with different perspectives on the issue.  It has made me rethink my position on how to advocate for people.  You see both of these groups trying to organize the same community.”
“For myself, I am documented. I am advocating for a group of people who are going to be affected.  I have come to the conclusion that the best way to go forward is educating the public, making them aware of exactly what is being written and what are the legislative proposals.  My goal is educating the Latino community so that these families are empowered to make the decisions of what is best for them and their families.  So they are the one’s making the decisions about goals, strategies, and tactics.  They have a right to be at the table.”
“Once you get that movement going including the people who are being effected, then the legislators will have to reconsider what they are proposing, to develop something that is much better, something that is fair for the people already here. “
“I think that education and empowering the people is the best thing rather than I myself trying to tell people what should be the best position.”
“We here in Sacramento are planning a couple of acts of civil disobedience in the near future to tell the public how very important this issue of immigration is. I think that CD is a powerful way to educate the people.  You are risking your freedom. I think that, if you do CD properly, in such a way as it makes sense, then we can frame the message in such a way as even the folks who are anti immigrant understand, then I think it will have a very powerful impact.”

Question: Some advocates, such as the folks in the fast in Washington, made a point that they are talking with very broad segments of the population, they are building the broadest possible coalition.
“We are actually doing both.  We are focusing on educating within the Latino community and in other actions we are reaching out to the broader community. We are developing informational packets, one that has the positive impacts of immigrants here in our state.”
“We definitely want to outreach to the broader community because I think that once society as a whole has a really good understanding of what is going on, and how important it is to pass something inclusive, so that everyone is being respected as a human being, that is when we will get a fairer immigration reform.”
“Once you see the undocumented as people, as our neighbors, it is important to see that these are just people who are doing what everyone else would do.  They are trying to feed their families and provide for a better life.”
“Society seems to focus on the symptoms of immigration. We want to focus on what is forcing people to migrate. Once people have a broader understanding, they tend to see immigrants as human beings, not as criminals.”
This interview, and an interview with Eliseo Medina of the Fast4Families can be found in the Spring 2014 issue of Democratic Left. Available at

Duane Campbell is the author of this blog,  a professor (emeritus) of bilingual multicultural education at California State University Sacramento, a union activist, and chair of Sacramento DSA.  He has worked on immigration reform issues for over 30 years.

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