March 19, 2010
Hundreds of Thousands Expected to Gather in DC for Immigration Rights March
immigrant rights march planned on Sunday is expected to draw over 100,000
people from a broad coalition of groups across the country to call on President
Obama live up to his promises and Congress to pass comprehensive immigration
reform. We speak with members of La Raza and Make
the Road New York.
GONZALEZ: President Obama has pledged to move forward on immigration reform and
embraced a draft plan from Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham for
overhauling the nation's immigration system. In a statement released by the
White House Thursday, Obama praised the senators', quote, "promising
bipartisan framework," adding that it, quote, "can and should be the
basis for moving forward." The four-point proposal from Senators Schumer
and Graham includes high-tech identification cards, bolstering border security,
creating a process for admitting temporary workers, and implementing a, quote,
"tough but fair path" for legalization.
GOODMAN: Well, the announcement comes just before a planned march on Washington this Sunday
called by immigrant rights advocates. Over 100,000 people from a broad
coalition of groups across the country are expected to rally at the National
Mall, demanding President Obama live up to his promises and Congress pass
comprehensive immigration reform.
joined now in Washington, DC by a lead organizer of Sunday's march,
Clarissa Martinez De Castro, the director of immigration and national campaigns
at the National Council of La Raza.
you met with President Obama. What were your demands? What did you talk to him
about this past week?
CASTRO: One of the main purposes of that meeting was to make sure the
administration understood very clearly the state of emergency that immigrant
communities are living in every day and that that state of emergency is created
by inaction on immigration reform. We have heard commitments from the
administration in the past, as well as from Congress, to do something to finally
address this issue, but we haven't seen a lot of real action. So the idea was
that they needed to start demonstrating very clearly steps to get there. And we
have seen some of these steps happen this week, leading up to the march on
GONZALEZ: Well, Clarissa, this promises—it looks like it's going to be the
largest protest march of the Obama administration so far, and it seems that
already there has been enormous reaction by the administration and by Congress
just as you were organizing the march. There were a series of meetings that the
President held. Luis Gutierrez, the congressman from Chicago, who has been a
leading advocate of immigration reform, said, I think just yesterday, that he
promised to vote for health reform on the basis that the administration was
promising that it would move forward on immigration reform this year. So you're
already getting a lot of at least verbal support. The question is, will it be
translated into action in Congress? And could you give us a sense of what you
feel about the proposals of Senator Schumer and Lindsey Graham?
CASTRO: Sure. First, let me say that, you know, certainly my organization is
part of March for America, but it is important to know that there are over 700
organizations across the country who are part of this effort, and it is that
combined energy that it's bringing these results.
as you mentioned, Senator Schumer, Democrat from New York,
and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, unveiled some broad
parameters of what they're proposing will be then turned into a legislative
vehicle. There's not a great deal of detail in those parameters at this point.
So we look forward to those ideas being swiftly translated into a legislative
vehicle that then we can analyze in detail. So far they're talking about four
pillars that will drive that bipartisan proposal, and they deal largely, as
they describe them, with border security, worker flows, which means legal
immigration issues, with worker eligibility verification to work, and with a
GOODMAN: Clarissa, La Raza opposed the healthcare reform bill?
CASTRO: We issued our statement yesterday, that we didn't think it really
addressed the needs of the most vulnerable among our populations.
GONZALEZ: We're joined here in New
York by Ana Maria Archila of the community
organization Make the Road by Walking [Make the Road New York].
to Democracy Now!
ANA MARIA ARCHILA: Thank you so
GONZALEZ: The importance of this march, this upcoming march, and the need to
get comprehensive immigration reform this year, if possible, could you talk
ANA MARIA ARCHILA: Yes. Well,
immigrant communities across the country have been waiting and waiting to see a
real solution to the crisis that we have. We
have a legal system that basically creates a second class of non-citizens that
are easily exploitable; that are exploited at work every day; that, when they
go into the detention centers, do not have any sense of due process; that are
forced to live in fear and are facing the realities of being separated by
their—from their families. And so, this legal system has existed in this
country for too long, so long that now
we have 12 million people who are undocumented and who live under these
conditions every day.
all of us worked really hard to make sure that—to create a different political
space in the country. Back before the elections, in 2006, millions of people
came out to march. Millions of people who could lose their jobs, who were
afraid of government, came out and took over the public space to say this needs
to change. In 2008, over ten million
Latinos helped elect President Obama, helped put the Democrats in control of
the Senate and the House of Representatives, with the promise that immigration
reform would be a priority. And nothing—there hasn't been real movement.
at the same time, there are people like Marta Freire, one of our members who
lives in Queens, a woman from Ecuador,
undocumented women, who, in 9/11, was one of the cleanup workers after 9/11.
She now has developed cancer, terminal cancer, and she wants to be able to see
her daughters. She wants to be able to travel to her country and say goodbye to
her daughters before she dies, after she did the work that she did for this
country. There are many stories like Marta's story, and that's why people are
marching on Sunday, to make sure that the message of restoring dignity and
opportunity to millions of people that have done so many things to make this
country strong, that that promise that was—that Obama made and that members of
Congress made is actually kept.
GONZALEZ: One of the things I think I was struck by, in terms of the parameters
that were unveiled by Senators Schumer and Lindsey Graham, was that there's
going to be an emphasis, in terms of future immigration, more on high-tech
workers, rather than on blue-collar workers, basically bringing in more
computer and scientific workers from—expanding the H-1B portion of immigration
and reducing the number of low-income workers that are coming in the country.
Do you have some concerns still about some of the issues that are being raised
by Senator Schumer and Senator Graham?
ANA MARIA ARCHILA: Well, so we
have—so, first, I want to say I think the organizing that has happened in
immigrant communities, both street organizing and political organizing, has
taken us this far. We were able to get President Obama to meet with immigration
advocates. We were able to start seeing some action in the Senate. So that's
parameters that are established by the op-ed that Senators Schumer and Graham
published yesterday do emphasize quite heavily enforcement and also emphasize
quite heavily what you mentioned, which is creating flows for migration for
kind of highly educated immigrants. We know that that's one of the interests of
businesses in this country, is being able to retain—attract and retain people
who are highly skilled. But we also know that the reality of this country is
that some of the industries that are growing fastest are not the high-tech
industries, are not those industries, are other industries that we also need to
keep in this country. So there needs to be a way to look at the future and
think about how to welcome workers in a way that is organized, that is orderly,
and that also protects and respects the rights of those workers. And we look
forward to working on those details.
GOODMAN: Clarissa Martinez De Castro in Washington,
I wanted to go back to that issue of healthcare. It's very significant. You've
come out with a statement yesterday. Why do you feel the healthcare reform bill
does not help the most vulnerable immigrants in this country?
CASTRO: Well, we—granted, we understand that the fight over healthcare is very
difficult. We also believe that one of the purposes should be to remove the
structural barriers to those people who are having a hard time either obtaining
healthcare or obtaining quality healthcare. In the case of the Latino
community, we have one of the largest uninsured populations. And we feel that
there was a real opportunity here to right a wrong that was done in the past,
where we started treating legal immigrants and US citizens as if they were
different classes of people. There was a real opportunity to do that. We know
that many folks try to manipulate the immigration issue to block healthcare
reform. This is a recurring problem and, there again, one of the reasons why we
need to do immigration reform.
there was—but instead of standing strong on principles of healthcare reform,
what we saw was that instead of undoing that wrong that prevents legal
immigrants who are contributing to our society from that being treated
differently, that that stayed in there. So there was an opportunity to do that,
to remove structural barriers that had been artificially created, and instead
of that, they stayed in place, and we added some others.
is a very difficult position for us to take. We understand how much the country
needs healthcare. But we also understand that when you have an opportunity to
truly address the barriers that are preventing communities across the country
from really accessing care, that we need to do a better job. And we need to be
mindful of how the most vulnerable among us are treated in those proposals.
GONZALEZ: And Clarissa Martinez, to go back to the immigration reform issue,
could you talk about what the impact could possibly be in November if
immigration reform is not passed? Obviously there are people like Harry Reid
himself, the Senate Majority Leader, who's facing a tough race in Nevada. What would the
message be to the Latino electorate if immigration reform is not passed?
CASTRO: Well, that's an important point, particularly because, look, the
immigration issue has been debated now how many years? So that's one of the
reasons we feel that there can be swift action, because they have debated this
issue over and over again. What has stopped it from happening is that it's
become a political football. And first of all, it's unacceptable that people
are seeing their lives come to bitter ends every day or sent away from their
children, all because of politics. That's why it's time to act.
terms of Latinos, I think that there's been a back-and-forth over time about
whether Latinos care about immigration or not. Here's the reality. Latinos care
very deeply about bread-and-butter issues, and in the current state of the
economy, there's no question that we're very concerned about the economy and
jobs. But we also care about respect. And that's how we see the issue of
immigration. Even if you're a tenth generation American, when you're Latino,
the way that this issue gets debated really has a lot to do with how you are regarded
and how you are treated. And we have seen a lot of discrimination, increase in
hate crimes against the Latino community, due to the vitriol in the immigration
debate. That is one of the reasons why this issue has such an energizing power
on the civic participation of Latinos and why it drove us to march in 2006, as
it will do now, why it drove people to become citizens, and then, citizens
native-born and new Americans alike, to vote in 2008.
say, hey, this is just—Latinos are just going to become Democrats. That is not
the case. But parties have to fight for our vote. For Democrats, action is
essential, because promises were made and because the issue has such dire
consequences. But for Republicans, progress on this issue and solutions is also
essential, if they want to start restoring their relationship with Latinos who
are the fastest-growing electorate in the nation. And we're going to be
watching who takes action to try to get this done, who sits on the sideline,
and who works to obstruct it. And that's how it—that's going to influence our
vote in November.
GOODMAN: Clarissa Martinez De Castro, thank you very much for joining us,
director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La
Raza. And Ana Maria Archila of Make the Road by Walking [Make the Road New
York], thank you so much.
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