Saturday, August 29, 2009
Groups mobilize for the next immigration battle
BY CINDY CARCAMO
The Orange County Register
Former schoolteacher Evelyn Miller doesn’t plan to retire from the anti-illegal immigration movement any time soon.
She’s too busy organizing petitions, blasting e-mails, faxes and letters, and threatening politicians who are up for re-election.
The 76-year-old member of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform says she is driven by her belief that those in the country illegally are taking jobs and taxpayer services from Americans.
“We’re soldiers in the foxhole,” Miller said from her dining room in Irvine, which doubles as a home office.
Groups like Miller’s have proven so effective in mobilizing and delivering their message that they have halted two attempts at comprehensive immigration reform. In 2007 the groups literally shut down the Senate’s phone system at the height of discussion on changes that would have given millions without legal status a pathway to citizenship.
Now, with President Barack Obama’s most recent announcement of possible reform in the upcoming year, groups on both sides of the issue in Orange County and across the nation say they are energized and ready to gear up for the next battle. Some immigrant advocates say they’ve learned from the last round in the ring.
“We’ve had several years of the anti-immigration side making a lot of noise and able to organize themselves very effectively and contacting members of Congress,” said National Immigration Forum spokesman Douglas Rivlin.
Groups that promote immigration reform are now more organized and building stronger alliances, he said. They are mobilizing young people, labor unions and even church leaders to carry their message, and utilizing social-networking tools more than before.
The message? Immigration reform, they say, is the only way to fix a broken system. The only reasonable solutions are to legalize the millions who are in the country illegally and provide a guest worker program, they add.
Matias, an activist from Placentia who is in the country illegally, said he and other activists are encouraging young people to reach out to lawmakers.
“A lot of times youth become active and they are more worried about putting a rally together or getting media attention and they don’t necessarily think about contacting their legislator, and now they are making sure we have all our bases covered,” he said.
The Register is withholding Matias’ full name at his request and under newspaper policy that recognizes the potential for retaliation against him.
In Orange County, the birthplace of Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project and ballot initiative Proposition 187, those who would like to restrict illegal immigration are already skilled in the art of getting out their message.
“Our direct e-mail list is well over 500 people but beyond that a good many of our direct e-mail lists are group leaders of other groups throughout the nation. It could get up to the thousands,” said Barbara Coe, founder of California Coalition for Immigration Reform.
The anti-illegal immigration group based in Huntington Beach co-authored Proposition 187 nearly 15 years ago. The initiative would have denied public services such as education to people in the country illegally. Voters passed the proposition, but a federal court eventually overturned it.
Still, some of the same people who pushed the initiative are still at it.
“That was what helped us defeat the amnesty of 2007. It was just a constant barrage of messages: ‘If you vote yes on this you’ll lose my vote and financial support.’ That was nonstop,” Coe said. “And we’re making the effort to do exactly the same thing. You betcha.”
TAKING A CUE FROM FOES
Some in the immigrant advocacy movement say the political dynamic helped defeat immigration overhaul. By the time President George W. Bush got around to pushing the bill, he was pretty unpopular and didn’t even have the political sway within his own party, they say.
Now, Obama is promising the legalization of millions of people who are in the country illegally. In addition he’s expressed the need for some type of temporary work program for people to come to the country legally and the enforcement of immigration laws already on the books.
Finding ways to mobilize supporters is now a priority for the pro-immigration reform groups, Rivlin said.
On June 1, activists kicked off The Reform Immigration For American campaign, which serves as an umbrella for various organizations — from labor unions to law enforcement and religious groups.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which is heading the campaign’s efforts, said the various groups were simply unprepared the last time around. Now, he said they have a database list of about 75,000.
Reaching out to youth is an important component in the push for immigration reform, Matias said.
He and his allies are promoting the DREAM Act, which would give students in the country illegally a pathway to citizenship. They use social networking tools, such as Facebook, twitter and their Web sites to organize rallies throughout the nation. On June 23 they held mock graduations in Orange County and about a dozen other sites throughout the country, the largest in Washington, D.C.
“I’m here in California … but I can contact people all over the country who are coming together,” he said. “We all have a shared experience… coming up with immigration reform. It affects us a lot and personally.”
The Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran pastor in Los Angeles, travels to Orange County regularly, setting up meetings with religious leaders from immigrant and non-immigrant congregations.
She’s serving as a liaison to help create understanding between both groups.
Orange County immigration advocates who were active in 2007 reached out to religious leaders in immigrant communities, said Salvatierra, who oversees the Orange County chapter of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice.
“It was very clear that was not effective by itself,” said Salvatierra, who is also executive director for the organization’s California chapter.
She said it’s her hope that a common Biblical belief in compassion will give non-immigrant religious leaders and congregation members a new perspective on immigrants — especially those who are in the country illegally.
In Orange County, 10 congregations, including mega-church The Crossing Church in Costa Mesa, have already committed to informal meetings with pastors who lead immigrant churches, such as Templo Calvario in Santa Ana.
“Orange County has a very rich county of people of faith who are serious about their faith,” Salvatierra said. “If your faith is Biblically based it’s not easy to ignore the scripture about welcoming they neighbor, loving thy enemy.”
TOWNHALLS ON IMMIGRATION REFORM?
Some anti-illegal immigration activists have been watching the heated town halls on health care reform and see the future.
“I think that what you’re seeing at the health care town halls may be a template for the immigration debate,” said Tara Setmayer, who handles immigration policy for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. “I think it may be a template for the grassroots advocates who have been so involved and vocal in the past.”
But Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist said he doesn’t hold much hope for the movement, especially from what’s left of his group after years of infighting.
“The Minuteman movement has lost its mojo because of all this delusional mentality that has gotten into the movement… In our side of the argument they are all attacking each other,” Gilchrist said, alluding to his legal wrangling with Coe and other former allies — some who have formed new groups.
The slow disintegration of the Minutemen, he says mirrors the movement in general.
“I think amnesty will pass,” he said