Intermestic Initiatives - Immigrant Inclusion in America Society

From its initiation IMI has advocated for fair and just inclusion of immigrants in US society. During 1985-86 WCVI partnered with the National Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Forum, MALDEF, and LULAC to successfully convince Congress to enact Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) with an amnesty program that legalized three million undocumented persons during the 1987-1992 period. 70% of these persons were of Mexican origin and about half lived in California.

Ironically though California was the "immigrant capital" of America it became ground zero for the anti-immigrant reaction called Prop 187 (a racist ballot measure approved by the voters in Nov. 1994) which legally excluded immigrants from much of California society.

Though defeated in the courts by MALDEF much of Prop 187's concepts were enacted federally by Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 -signed by a politically opportunist President Clinton while running for re-election.

Subsequently in 1999 the IMI began promoting a new federal amnesty for the undocumented -which had shrunk to only a few million after IRCA but began to rapidly grow again during the 1990's jobs boom in the US entering more than a dozen new states like CO, NV, WA, OR, NM, MI, PA, NJ, IN, MD, NC, GA, VA, CT, MA, NE, AR. Previously undocumented persons were found in significant numbers in only six states (CA, TX, AZ, NY, IL, FL)

IMI together with Rick Swartz of Strategic Solutions, Washington, DC pioneered the concept of a farm worker only legalization called AgJobs which was included in the immigration reform bill of 2001 and nearly enacted due to the pro-immigrant sympathies of then President George W. Bush. But it was derailed by the tragic Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US which caused a dramatic uptick in anti-immigrant sentiment that endured for years.

2006 thru 2010 were bittersweet years as a peaceful, massive Latino/immigrant civic uprising known as "immigrant spring" in 2006 while defeating the anti-immigrant federal Sensenbrenner Bill popularized among the DC-based organizations the ill-fated concept of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) which argued -against the opinion of IMI- that only omnibus legislation which included legalization, border security/enforcement and future migrant flows should be promoted by the "movement". CIR bills during this period served as vehicles to match border militarization and enforcement provisions with legalization provisions in pending immigration legislation.

Omnibus CIR bills like the Kennedy-McCain in 2007 that included draconian enforcement provisions -opposed by WCVI, MALDEF, LULAC, NALACC and Hispanic Federation were nearly enacted.

Unfortunately, the hopeful election of Barack Obama turned out to be a nightmare for the undocumented during 2009-13 as he deported nearly three million persons and never enacted an immigration reform law that legalized the nation's 11 million undocumented persons (or a portion wherein), even with Democratic control of both Houses of Congress during 2009-10, even after promising to enact an amnesty in the first 100 days of his administration while campaigning for President in 2008. Obama wrongly believed that deporting masses of immigrants would influence Congressional Republicans to support a generous legalization bill.

In 2010 IMI pioneered the concept of the "down payment" bill which argued a smaller incremental legalization bill without border militarization/enforcement or "future flows" provisions could pass congress while a "good" omnibus comprehensive bill was impossible.

Briefly allied with Senator Feinstein and MALDEF around a "down payment" bill that include legalization for the "Dreamers" and Farm Workers (AgJobs), IMI was derailed by President Obama and the Congressional Democrats (ironically) who preferred to use immigration as an election issue against Republicans. By Nov. 2010 the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives and the window of opportunity for a legalization bill had closed.

During this period IMI launched the National Latino Congreso (NLC) -an annual national unity meeting of all forces in the Latino community to focus the community's strengths on politics and policy.

Meeting six times in 2006-2012 in Los Angeles (three times), El Paso, San Antonio, and Chicago the NLC was most successful in convening diverse national, state and local Latino organizations around immigration reform strategies. During 2006-07 the NLC become the organizing axis of much of Latino political/organizational sectors.

But the NLC was flawed in that it was only strong when Republicans were in power in DC -2006-08. The NLC was set aside by DC-based Latino organizations when it began to criticize the White House and Democratic Congressional leadership for not delivering good immigration legislation. Stated differently the NLC exposed the degree to which national Latino organizations have been coopted by the DC establishment.

Frustrated by DC inaction IMI led a return to state and local immigrant rights priorities after 2010 while simultaneously promulgating its first federal accountability scorecard around justice for immigrants:

Immigrant Justice Scorecard on US Congress 2009-10

Modeling itself on the successful "bottom up" LGBTQ and Marijuana Legalization movements IMI argued that to conquer DC with pro-immigrant legislation one had to conquer a critical mass of states first with state based pro-immigrant legislation.

Thus in 2011-12 IMI, Assemblyperson Felipe Fuentes, Mike Madrid of Grassroots Lab, and Angela Sanbrano of the Red Mexicana de Lideres and Organizaciones Migrantes (RMLOM) and a thirty-member state coalition developed the California Opportunity and Prosperity Act (COPA)-a state sanctuary concept for 2 million undocumented persons in the state. Though failing passage on the last day of session in 2012 COPA gained notoriety and helped reorient immigrant rights leaders to pursue state and or executive strategies for immigrant justice in the absence of federal Congressional action.

Subsequently numerous pro immigrant measures have been passed in other states (NY, IL, MA, MD for example), notably "AB60 the Driver's License Bill" for the undocumented championed by Senator Gil Cedillo and Hermandad Mexicana President Nativo Lopez (enacted in 2012) and the TRUST Act championed by Pablo Alvarado and Chris Newman of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network enacted in 2013. In 2017 CA Senate President ProTem Kevin de Leon championed the Sanctuary State law that in practice neutralizes most federal deportation actions in the state.

A recent study by the CA Department of Motor Vehicles shows that more than a million undocumented persons in CA have gotten their legal drivers licenses significantly improving public safety on roads and freeways, dramatically reducing "hit and run" incidents, and providing a mini-boom to the insurance industry.

Indeed, the now famous DACA (a temporary legalization for undocumented children brought to US by undocumented parents) promulgated by President Obama during his re-election run in 2012 looked remarkably like COPA.

In 2013 IMI criticized S744 "The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013" as exactly the type of Frankenstein legislation Latinos could not support. S744 contained $40 billion to build a border wall with Mexico and a legalization program that would have benefitted less than half the undocumented over a tortuous twenty-year period. S744 passed the Senate but failed in the House.

Today IMI supports state-based legislation and activities like the 2016 immigrant strategy session and state meetings and state Latino Congresos (which have been held annually in CA and/or TX during 2013-17) and other entities to prepare for the opening of a new "moment" in Congress hopefully after the 2018 elections when efforts to make DACA permanent by federal legislation will have a real chance.

Fortunately, a new conventional wisdom has emerged among Latino and immigrant federal policy advocates that incremental "down payment" reform legislation not omnibus CIR type legislation is the most effective path forward for the immigrant rights movement.

It is worth noting that a sea change has finally occurred in American society regarding immigrants which is best reflected by two electoral decisions made during the Presidential campaigns of 1996 and 2012. In 1996 Democratic incumbent President and opportunist Bill Clinton signed the worst immigration bill in modern history to stave off right wing opposition to his reelection bid. He remarked at the time that "he no choice" but to sign. He was re-elected handily.

Conversely, in 2012 Democratic incumbent President and opportunist Barack Obama promulgated the landmark federal executive order DACA giving temporary protection from deportation and work permits to 700,000 (potentially 2 million) undocumented young adults. He did so to stave off left-wing Latino/immigrant opposition to his reelection bid. He was re-elected handily.

Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

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Antonio Gonzalez On the Airwaves
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