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Elisa Batista's picture

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I attended a lively, well-attended and diverse -- meaning age, Latino background and allies -- Latino Caucus at the Netroots Nation Convention in Las Vegas today. The caucus was headed by Nicole Rivera, who is a field representative for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and it did not disappoint.

At the heart of the conversation was how to pass the DREAM Act to help undocumented Latino college students -- who were represented at the caucus, by the way! -- achieve conditional permanent residency. Also, we discussed coalition-building to pass comprehensive immigration reform to meet the demand for labor in this country as well as a reasonable path to residency and citizenship so that people don't have to cross the border illegally.

There was big-time concern over racial profiling, especially in light of Arizona's proposed law, SB 1070, which would require local police to ask for documentation of anyone under "reasonable suspicion" of being in the country illegally. Carmen Cornejo, who lives in Arizona, said so much tension and animosity has arisen from the proposed law that her son was questioned by police simply for "looking suspicious" on his walk home. Also, she said that one politician running for office in Arizona has proposing less than ethical ways to combat illegal immigration like cutting off the electricity of people suspected of harboring undocumented immigrants -- in Arizona's 110-degree heat, mind you.

"(Arizona's law) SB 1070 brings this antagonism between the Latino community and the rest of the community in a painful way," she said. "It is very, very nasty."

There was agreement in the room that the public is not reading enough stories about the racial profiling that is going on due to heightened fears and xenophobia.

Cori Redstone, an organizer in Utah, brought up this civil rights infringement in the name of citizen immigration law enforcement. An actual list of Latino families, their social security numbers and personal information like "baby due 4/4/10" actually circulated offline and on the Internet, causing for some families to receive threatening phone calls and face harassment. The problem is not all the families on the list were undocumented, yet their privacy was violated, Redstone said.

Redstone proposed building a coalition to pass immigration reform like the churches. The Church of Latter Day Saints in Utah, for example, has issued a statement calling for "the strongest desire to do what is best for all of God’s children."

Finally, we discussed ways to frame the issue so that immigration reform is not only a "Latino issue," but an American issue that warrants the public's attention. Here were a couple of suggestions:

• Actually show people the complexity of having local law enforcement request proof of residency. Ask the person you are debating to, "prove that you are an American citizen." Chances are they will not have their birth certificates with them, yet, people who "look" like they are undocumented -- namely Hispanics -- are expected to be able to produce such paperwork, or possibly face detainment.

• To combat the talking point of "legal versus illegal," bring up the fact that many Latino families in this country are of mixed documentation. For example, you could have an undocumented mother and documented father with children born in the United States. And as I have reported here and in the Huffington Post, a whopping 92 percent of children of Latino ancestry are U.S.-born citizens, which is why "just deport them" is not a practical nor legal solution.

Perhaps the best explanation I have encountered in wading through this contentious issue came from Arizona sociologist Cecilia Menjivar, who wrote about Latina immigrant mothers here at MomsRising:

"All your comments raise some very important questions that go to the heart of the debate (and create much of the confusion we see today, and lead to misinformation). So let me see if I can clarify some points.

"1. When someone says that their family members came here legally years ago and waited their turn to become citizens, there are a couple of things that are fundamentally important to understand. CONTEMPORARY laws differ significantly from those in the past. Today you have people who wait years, if not decades, for their permanent legal residence, but this depends on the country of origin. For instance, if you come from Mexico and petition for a sibling to migrate, that person has a waiting time of about 19 years, but if you are from Norway, England, or the Czech Republic, the waiting time is significantly shorter. This is because the length of the backlog of applications for the different countries is very different. (Immigration law is complex and I’m not doing justice to it in these short lines, but I hope I can help clarify some points.)

"Second, some immigrants (those from Mexico and Central Americans, for instance, who face long waiting lines) first have to apply (and wait for years)to get their permanent legal residence, and then, after 3 years (if you’re married to a citizen) or 5 years, they become eligible to apply for citizenship. So it is not correct to say that an immigrant can come in and apply for citizenship (as was the case a long time ago).

"And third, although an idea exists in the public’s and policy makers’ mind that the documented and the undocumented populations are completely separate, this is not the case. Documented and undocumented immigrants are often members of the same families (married to each other, parents and children, etc.), work side by side, attend the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods, and pray in the same churches. So they become quite inseparable and difficult to distinguish."

Thank you, Cecilia.

I plan to cover education and other issues at the conference. Stay tuned! In the meantime, here is another friendly reminder that I will be co-hosting the Parents Caucus tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. in the Miranda 5 room at the Rio Hotel & Casino. I look forward to meeting you if you are in the area!


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