Advocates say solidarity is key to achieve real immigration reform

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Panelists (from left) Ben de Guzman, Gabriela Villareal and Alex Aldana spoke on immigration reform.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REED NELSON

by Reed Nelson

When Lourdes Perez got off work in the recent past, she didn't put her feet up. She said she couldn't worry about dinner or her son's extracurricular activities. All she could think about was her safety and the safety of her son.

Perez was trapped in an abusive relationship, and — like many other undocumented women in the Bay Area — felt that calling the police wasn't an option. Perez doesn't speak much English, making her an easy target for her abusive spouse and fearful of local authorities charged with protecting the abused. And that makes no sense.

But for an estimated 2.6 million undocumented Californians, things haven't made sense in quite some time. Fear of deportation has forced many, like Perez, to try and go unnoticed day in and day out. Now, with federal immigration reform moving forward and policy initiatives at the local level aimed toward improving safety for undocumented survivors of domestic violence, advocates have finally seen some progress – yet immigrant rights advocates seem to agree that the work as being far from finished.

Dozens of community members turned out for a Sept. 12 event, "What's Beyond DOMA in Immigration Reform? The Next Steps for Women & LGBTQ Communities,” hosted in San Francisco by Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights Through Education (ASPIRE) and API Equality Northern California.

The event marked the first time “we've had a round table or panel discussion that brings in so many different perspectives and community organizations," co-host Sammie Wills noted.

In 1996, then-President Clinton signed a sweeping legislation banning safety-net access for millions of immigrants and refugees, according to panelist Gabriela Villareal, policy manager for the California Immigrant Policy Center. "[The law] basically barred [immigrants and refugees] from safety-net support for the first five years of them being here," Villareal said.

But things have worsened since then. Much of the panel discussion focused on the draconian Secure Communities (S-Comm) — a shadowy partnership between the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that began in 2008, and has resulted in the deportations of 784 San Franciscans since 2010, according to data provided by the office of Sup. John Avalos.

A week before the forum, Avalos' proposed Due Process for All ordinance received veto-proof supermajority support (8-3) from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. An attempt to neutralize S-Comm at the local level, the legislation makes it illegal for law enforcement to detain undocumented citizens solely in response to immigration detainer requests issued by ICE under S-Comm.

Stacy Umezu, programs co-director at Community United Against Violence (CUAV), urged forum participants to contact state elected officials urging support for the TRUST Act, statewide legislation similar to Due Process for All which would bar police from detaining individuals solely in response to requests from federal immigration authorities.

In the meantime, activists are continuing to advocate for meaningful reform. Alex Aldana, part of the East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition, for instance, found civil disobedience to be the most effective mode for change. "I'm undocumented and unafraid, queer and not ashamed," Aldana said during the discussion.

Amy Lin, from Aspire, perhaps summed up the mission of this eclectic group best when she discussed her personal experience as a doubly marginalized individual. As part of the LGBTQ community and the undocumented community, she said, she is stigmatized by even those already marginalized.

Solidarity was key, she said. And by sticking together, she and the rest of the panelists hope to steer immigration reform toward the inclusive and fair plateau they've been seeking all along.