A project of the Center for Community Change

Preparing for the L.A. event on 1/23 in Support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Another guest post from Robert Gittelson.

The past week has been a whirlwind of Los Angeles CIR advocacy events, press conferences, speaking engagements, marches, and organizing. My main focus, and that of my fellow Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition members, has been to organize and promote our upcoming January 23rd day of CIR advocacy in the San Fernando Valley, California, (a large suburb of Los Angeles that were it considered separate from Los Angeles proper, would by itself constitute the 5th largest city in the United States).

Toward that end, we started last week by holding a press conference in Van Nuys, where the first of our three events, the Pro-CIR rally, will be held next Saturday at 11:00 am. We are expecting a very large crowd at the rally, as there are approximately 1,000,000 immigrants, not to mention non-immigrant CIR supporters, who live in the valley. We have a full slate of community leaders, politicians, labor leaders, and faith leaders that plan to address the crowd at the event.

At the press conference, we discussed the fact that despite the probability of CIR being acted upon by Congress in the very near future, enforcement raids, check-points, and other I.C.E. actions are continuing unabated throughout the Nation. This is continuing the terrorization of immigrant neighborhoods through our communities, and tearing apart families of hard working human beings that are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.

When it was my turn to speak at the press conference, I mentioned that there was a troubling story in the Boston Globe documenting yet another “Bush era” style raid in Boston, in which some 58 mostly Guatemalan undocumented immigrants were janitorial workers on their way to work. In the Federal operation carried out by I.C.E., 9 “fugitives” were detained and are facing deportation. However, according to the article, “But (the) 49 other people, most of whom are believed to be from Guatemala, were also questioned and released on orders to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the future to determine whether they are here legally.”

I went on to explain:

“Only a couple of years ago, back when President Obama was campaigning as Presidential Candidate Obama, he responded to a raid of Reno area McDonalds that led to the deportation of some 56 undocumented immigrants, by stating that the enforcement action was primarily for show, and not for practical effect. He said that we weren’t going to be able to solve the problem of 12,000,000 undocumented immigrants, 50 immigrants at a time, and that what our Nation really needed was Comprehensive Immigration Reform. I would argue that he should heed his own good advice. Here we are one year into the Obama administration, and evidently we are still playing to the audience, and trying to solve this continuing problem “50 immigrants at a time.”

At the press conference, we made available to the press our letter of 12/23/09 addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting an urgent meeting with either Mr. Holder, or his designate, to address these issues on behalf of the communities affected by the “collateral arrest” policies of the current administration. The letter stated in part:

The fact check points designed to ensnare undocumented workers are increasing, and the fact that record numbers of these workers are being arrested and deported as the American people prepare to celebrate the holidays in the company of our respective families; and the fact that soon the census count will begin in earnest; and the fact we have a good chance to have congress enact comprehensive immigration reform in the first semester of the next legislative session constitute some of the main reasons why we are calling on your high office, and on the Secretary of Homeland Security, Ms. Janet Napolitano, to celebrate urgent meetings to discuss the need to effect a more acceptable resolution to unacceptable immigration raids.

Without a climate where immigrants feel secure to fully participate in the census count, and lacking a climate where the U.S. Congress shows a clear intent, and commitment, to establish a clear path to citizenship for the undocumented, the many in our community who embraced, and voted, for Mr. Barack Obama for President of the United States are going to increasingly wonder whether our collective vote is being properly appreciated by those who promised their full support.

Later in the week, several members of our coalition were invited to attend the CHIRLA/RIFA event at U.S.C., where Professor Manuel Pastor presented his research documenting how the State of California would benefit fiscally under CIR. One of our coalition members, David Freelow of LUINA, spoke eloquently in support of the study and CIR. Angelica Salas of CHIRLA, (one of the expert panelists who will be speaking at our 1/23 panel discussion event), spoke in earnest about why California at large, and our communities in particular so desperately are in need of CIR. I’ve seen Angelica speak on several occasions, and she is extremely well informed and articulate on this issue.

Without question, the event was uplifting and informative. Anyone who was in attendance certainly came away with a very positive impression of the net benefits to our economy inherent in CIR. However, I was personally disappointed in the local media coverage of the event. In fact, I was moved to write on Op-Ed, which stated in part:

So far this year, there have been two studies released by two of Los Angeles’s most prestigious universities, USC and UCLA. The Los Angeles Times covered both of these stories. On 1/12/10, Teresa Watanabe wrote about the USC study in, “Study: Legalizing undocumented adult Latinos would be boon to state’s economy.” On 1/07/10, Anna Gorman covered the UCLA story in, “UCLA study says legalizing undocumented immigrants would help the economy.” Both of these studies released important and new research documenting the positive fiscal affects that CIR would have on our State and our Nation’s economy and tax revenue. We feel that the information contained in these studies is fiscally sound and straightforward. It is not surprising that opponents of CIR would seek to downplay or counter the relevancy and/or accuracy of these academic studies.

Unfortunately, the sources chosen by the Times to present the “con” arguments to these studies have a long and troubling history of hate that has been well documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and are sister organizations dedicated to fight against not only CIR, but immigration in general. It is incumbent upon the media sources covering this issue to perform their due diligence, so that the arguments that are presented as fact are presented by experts on this issue, and not lobbyists or ideological groups with a stated agenda of obstructing CIR.

Specifically, the USC article stated:

But Steven Camarota of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies said that legalization would also cost taxpayers. He said the majority of illegal immigrants already pay taxes, but legalization would make them eligible for scores of public services, including welfare, unemployment insurance and non-emergency healthcare.

“Whatever the drain is now, it just gets bigger with legalization,” he said.

The USC study did not examine the added costs in services to the state.”

The UCLA article said:

“But Federation for American Immigration Reform spokesman Ira Mehlman said that even with legal status, many immigrants would continue to work in low-wage jobs, meaning their tax revenue wouldn’t make much of a difference to the economy. Also, legalization would flood the labor market and drive down wages rather than increase them, he said.

Mehlman said those supporting amnesty know they have a difficult sell because of the state of the economy.

“They are trying to portray this as an economic shot in the arm,” he said. “But I am not sure the American public is going to buy it.”

To first put the objectivity of these spokesmen into the proper context, I refer readers to the study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center titled, “The Nativist Lobby,” which not only explains in detail why it included the Federation for American Immigration Reform on its list of Hate Groups, but further states in part:

Three Washington, D.C. – based immigration-restriction organizations stand at the nexus of the American Nativist movement: the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA. Although on the surface they appear quite different – the first, the country’s best-known anti-immigrant lobbying group; the second, an “independent” think tank; and the third, a powerful grassroots organization – they are fruits of the same poisonous tree.”

FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA are all part of a network of Restrictionist organizations conceived and created by John Tanton, the “puppeteer” of the Nativist movement and a man with deep racist roots.

“CIS’ creation was part of a carefully thought-out strategy aimed at creating a set of complementary institutions to cultivate the Nativist cause – groups including the Federation for American immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA.”

“…these organizations are frequently treated as if they were legitimate, mainstream commentators on immigration. But the truth is that they were all conceived and birthed by a man who sees America under threat by non-white immigrants.”

On FAIR: “The Nativist lobby’s action arm has an ugly record of promoting racist ideas, conspiracy theories and anti-immigrant hatred.”

On CIS: “The Nativist lobby’s supposedly ‘independent’ think tank has never found any aspect of immigration it likes.”

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, both of these organizations are completely wrong as to the fiscal affects of CIR. Readers would take away from these articles a sense that the undocumented are a fiscal “drain, and that CIR would exacerbate this negative fiscal impact, when factually the opposite is true. Not only are the undocumented positive contributors to our State and Nation’s public and private revenue, but significantly so. In my article for the Notre Dame Law School Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy, I wrote:

The vast majority of the academic and government studies have concluded that illegal immigrants actually pay more taxes into the system than they receive in benefits. According to Francine Lipman, a tax law professor at Chapman Law School,

[E]very empirical study of illegals’ economic impact demonstrates the opposite . . . : undocumenteds actually contribute more to public coffers in taxes than they cost in social services.”  Moreover, undocumented immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy by investing and consuming goods and services; filling millions of “essential worker” positions resulting in subsidiary job creation, increased productivity and lower costs of goods and services; and making unrequited contributions to Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance programs.  Eighty-five percent of eminent economists surveyed have concluded that undocumented immigrants have had a positive (seventy-four percent) or neutral (eleven percent) impact on the U.S. economy.

When you look at this equation through a macroeconomic lens (which is the only accurate way to look at it), then the tax revenue generated through and because of the undocumented population is several times the amount that they receive back in social services.  It’s not even remotely close.  Many economists believe that immigrants are not the problem, but rather are the solution to many economic problems.  As Julian Simon has noted, “[E]very study that provides dollar estimates shows that when the sum of the tax contributions to city, state and federal government are allowed for, those tax payments vastly exceed the cost of the services used, by a factor of perhaps five, ten or more.”

In conclusion, I have no problem with both sides on the CIR debate presenting their arguments on this issue, because I strongly feel that the facts are on the side of enacting a fair and equitable CIR. This debate is going to be heated and controversial. However, the facts do not need to be controversial. Perhaps the one concept that all Americans should be able to unite behind, is that at a minimum, we need to begin and end this argument based on truth. This issue if difficult enough to sort through without the specious myths of propaganda, spin, and outright falsehoods clouding the argument.

On Sunday, Raul Murillo of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional of Los Angeles, and Juan Jose Gutierrez of Vamos Unidos USA, both Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition members, spoke at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys. The church is the destination point of our March for CIR on 1/23, and also the site of the panel discussion of experts that will be held after the march. These two community leaders spoke passionately to over 4,000 of the church’s 15,000 Hispanic paritioners. They each explained why 2010 is the time to finally enact CIR, and invited the church members to participate in the Day of Advocacy events.

I should mention that the final event of our Day of Advocacy, the Panel Discussion of Experts, promises to be extremely informative and worthwhile. It has long been my contention that the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of CIR is the preponderance of misinformation and straight-out propaganda that has consumed much of the dialogue surrounding this issue to date. We hope to change that dynamic by exposing the masses to the knowledge of true experts in the field of immigration. To date, the panel, which will be moderated by the Pastor Jim Tolle, (who recently testified before the Senate on this issue), includes the following confirmed speakers:

  • Congresswoman Judy Chu, a member of the House Immigration Sub-Committee
  • Bernard Wolfsdorf, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, (AILA)
  • The Rt. Reverand Alexei Smith of the Roman Catholic Archdioces of Los Angeles
  • Angelica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, (CHIRLA)
  • Dr. Juan Hernandez, author of The New American Pioneers, and a former member of Mexican President Vicente Fox’s Cabinet.

Finally, yesterday, on Martin Luther King Day, about 30 of our coaliton members marched in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters at the MLK Day Parade here in Los Angeles. It was quite a wild event, as we marched through driving rain for about 4 hours, and let me tell you, we were soaked. It was all good, however. It was uplifting to note that as we marched along the parade route, proudly displaying our Full Rights for Immigrants banner and chanting pro-CIR slogans, all along the route we were greeted very enthusiastically by the crowds. Many in the crowd of onlookers joined us in our chants, yelling slogans such as, “What do we want? JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!” This bodes well for the much needed solidarity between the Hispanic and African American communities of Los Angeles, as we make our final push for CIR.

Without question, here in Los Angeles, the energy surrounding the possibility of CIR this year is palpable. Is this the year that we finally “overcome?” I am personally certain of it.

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