Fight for Immigration Reform Gains Momentum

Tens of thousands of people joined the demonstrations and rallies held in 150 sites nationwide last October 5 to pressure Congress to pass the immigration reform bill. Advocates dubbed the day, the “National Day of Immigrant Dignity and Respect.”

The protests took place in over 40 states. In the State of California alone, demonstrations were held in 21 cities. The larger rallies took place in Los Angeles, San Diego and Boston. In New York, the march started in Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. Many of the rallies were conducted before the offices of House Republican lawmakers.

Part of the “major show of force” was the concert and march for immigration reform held on October 8 where thousands of people gathered at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Multi-Grammy award winner, Los Tigres del Norte and artist Lila Downs performed during the concert. More than 150 protesters, including 8 House members, were arrested for civil disobedience.

Immigrant advocates remain hopeful that immigration reform will pass as House Democrats initiated measures to put pressure on the Republican majority. On October 2, Minority leader Representative Nancy Pelosi of California introduced their own version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill which mirrors that of the Senate-approved bill on major points. Pelosi said that there were enough Democrats and Republicans in the House to pass the bill.

The House Democrats’ immigration plan includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented; however, it does not include the border security measures which helped win over many conservative Republicans in the Senate. In place of the proposed border security measures, it would require the Department of Homeland Security to map out a plan to ensure the arrest of 90% of illegal crossers across the entire southern border within 5 years.

Although at present, no Republican member is a sponsor of the bill, this still comes as good news to advocates especially since the bipartisan House group’s efforts to come up with the bill failed last month. Representative Pelosi challenged Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to put the immigration bill for a vote on the floor this year.

Several House Republican leaders have indicated that “passing comprehensive immigration reform remains a top Republican priority.” Representative Cathy McMorris Rogers who chairs the House Republican Conference said despite the government shutdown, her party is still committed to “rewrite the nation’s immigration laws.”

Meantime, a number of smaller immigration bills are expected to move onto the House floor in late October or early November. The bills already approved in the Judiciary Committee level involve enforcement and visas for highly skilled workers.

While Congress continues to refuse to act on the immigration reform bill, California has adopted a number of bills expanding immigrant rights. Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law the Trust Act which restricts federal agents from detaining undocumented immigrants who are non-criminals or minor offenders. He also signed the bill allowing qualified undocumented immigrants to become licensed attorneys as well as the bill allowing the issuance of driver’s license to the undocumented.

With unceasing and intensified efforts, nationwide campaigns, and growing support even within the Republican party, advocates are hopeful that the comprehensive immigration reform bill will be passed by the end of the year.