Immigration Groups Mobilize to Push for ‘Pathway to Legalization’ Under Obama

Tiffany Gabbay | November 11, 2008 | 7:03pm EST
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( – Immigrant groups are calling on the incoming Obama administration to push for “just and humane immigration reform” and “a pathway to legalization”—amnesty and citizenship for illegal immigrants.
The National Capital Immigrant Coalition (NCIC) and the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) held a press conference Tuesday at the National Press Club to announce a “mass mobilization” by illegal immigrants that is scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C., on Jan.  21—one day after the president-elect is sworn into office.
The mobilization is part of a series of events “designed to open a dialogue between lawmakers and the community,” according to FIRM, a group of pro-amnesty immigration organizations, policy makers and union leaders.
FIRM is calling on the Obama administration to enact immigration reform and “put an immediate stop to raids that have terrorized immigrant families.”
The NCIC, which describes itself as a “coalition of more than 30 organizations that advocates for and mobilizes immigrant communities in the Washington, D.C. area,” will partner with FIRM to make sure that the Jan. 21 event will draw “thousands of immigrants and immigration supporters” to the nation’s capital to welcome the new administration.
“We helped elect someone who represents our hopes and dreams,” said NCIC President Jessica Alvarez.
The immigrant community has “fully embraced the spirit of hope and democracy surrounding this historic election” and will be “asking for immigration reform,” she said.
Alvarez said immigrants were heard loud and clear in this election – the Hispanic vote increased 30 percent from 2004. More than 10.5 million Hispanics voted last Tuesday, she said, because “our future is at stake.”
Chung-Wha Hong, executive director for the New York Immigration Coalition, spoke pointedly about what her organization’s “expectations” are of the incoming Obama administration regarding immigration matters.
“We ask that President-elect Obama adopt just and humane immigration reform and includes this as one of his top ten national priorities to be accomplished within the first year of his administration,” Hong said.
Hong explained that this expectation “flows directly from Obama’s campaign promise” made to immigrant leaders that he will “make this (immigration reform) happen in the first year.”
Many immigrant organizations endorsed Obama’s candidacy specifically based on this commitment, Hong said.
“We applaud Speaker Nancy Pelosi for expressing her support for ending worksite raids and for calling for just and humane immigration reform,” Hong said.
The raids, according to Hong, have been “one of the most destructive aspects of our failed immigration policy.” She said raids on companies that employ illegal aliens “separate families and destroy work places.”
Likewise, FIRM and NCIC members said they expect Democratic leaders in Congress to “(use) the power of the new majority to get immigration reform done.”
“Together with a moratorium on raids, we ask Congress and (the next) administration to institute a number of administrative reforms to reverse anti-immigrant Bush administration policies that involve detention policies, family back laws, no-match letters, and foreign worker injustice,” Hong said.
Hong said one demand is that “everyone, including newly elected leaders, create a more respectful environment for the immigration debate” and that “anti-immigrant extremists” should “not be allowed to sway the debate.”
“President Elect Obama is fully expected and is called on to make immigration a winning issue for all Americans,” she added.
Alvarez added to Hong’s list of expectations.
“We are looking for humane reform, less punitive laws and for workers to be provided with a pathway to legalization,” Alvarez said.
When asked to clarify what exactly “humane reform” means, Angelica Salas, executive director of Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said she supports enforcing immigration and labor laws but does not support raids as an enforcement measure.
With a message of “ending raids, placing family first and due process,” Salas said more and more “(immigrants) are becoming aware of their political power,” and “we must put an end to the harsh tactics that don’t work.”
She told “(Hispanics) abandoned the Republican Party, because the Republicans abandoned us.
“McCain passed along the baton to some of the extremists in the Republican Party, and that is why I think immigration reform failed,” Salas said.
Salas believes that members of the Hispanic community watched the immigration debate closely and saw that the people who voted against amnesty for illegal aliens were “from a certain party.”
Salas said she thinks Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was unfortunately hurt by the actions of members of his party.
When asked what McCain’s role should be in the next administration with regard to immigration reform, Salas said, “I am very convinced that McCain will have a role in this (immigration reform) moving forward, because President-elect Obama and Sen. McCain both see that immigrants are an important part of the American populace and that this is an issue that needs to be solved.”
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