Quezada says don’t let “perfect” stand in way of immigration reform

Immigrant groups demand comprehensive reform this year
Groups like SFILEN have been advocating for comprehensive reform in face of the nation's broken immigration system

The SF Bay Area Coalition for Immigration Reform is organizing a rally, Wednesday July 28 at 4 p.m., at the new federal building in San Francisco, at 90 7th Street at Mission to ask Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to help fix the nation’s broken immigration system.

The rally occurs hours before Arizona’s harsh new law, SB 1070, is set to go into effect. Members of the local clergy will be on hand to bless local immigrant families that are facing deportation. The protest kicks off an action-packed 24 hours, with activities planned in San Francisco, Oakland, and beyond.

"Arizona's unworkable law threatens both our safety and our ideals. And it's a symptom of a tragically broken immigration system at the national level," said Eric Quezada of Dolores Street Community Services in a press release that notes that thanks to federal inaction on reform, “1,100 deportations happen every day.”

“Wednesday's rally is not a protest of Speaker Pelosi, but we want to make sure she hears from her constituents who are suffering as a result of this broken system,” Quezada said. “And we're calling on her to exercise leadership so we can work towards real solutions that reflect our values of fairness and community."
With confirmed speakers including Board President David Chiu, I asked Quezada, who heads Dolores Street Community Services, how ICE’s new Secure Communities, or SecureComm, program is impacting deportation rates locally and what he hopes will happen on the immigration front this year.

“There has definitely been an increase,” Quezada said, referring to a recent SecureComm audit that was presented to the San Francisco Police Commission a month after the federal-state-local database hook-up got switched on, linking previously separate records.
“Part of our ask with this action is that Pelosi take a more active role,” Quezada continued, noting that Congressmember Zoe Lofgren has done much of the research.

Arizona's SB 1070 is set to go into effect on Thursday, July 29. But it faces seven lawsuits, including a challenge from the US Department of Justice (DOJ). Several of the suits call for an injunction against the law. A federal judge in Phoenix heard arguments last week, but has not released any decision to date.

“We welcome the lawsuit that DOJ put in,” Quezada said. “At the same time, the Obama administration is rolling out SecureComm across the nation and we still have 287(g) programs in place. So, if the Arizona law gets implemented, it will be a really tragic day in U.S. history.”

To fix the current immigration system, rally organizers are advocating measures that would halt dangerous police-ICE collaboration programs, and would serve as a first step toward comprehensive reform. These include the DREAM Act, which offers a pathway to legal status for immigrant students, and a just and humane immigration reform that brings immigrant community members out of the shadows.

Quezada feels that Obama currently appears to be resisting bringing administrative relief forward, but he’s not exactly sure why the President is holding his cards back, or when he plans to lay them out on the table.
“But we know that pressure is building on a couple of fronts, prior to the November elections,” Quezada added. “Folks are going to see a lot of immigrant rights groups calling on members to register to vote. And we are going to support those who support us, oppose those who oppose us, and those sitting on the fence will get nothing. That’s a message that a lot of swing Democrats need to hear.”

With the 2012 presidential election approaching (in terms of campaigning and fund raising), Quezada observes that the Latino vote played a significant role in electing Obama in 2008.
“So, every day that there is no movement on this front in D.C., Obama loses strong support from the immigrant community. But we also know that pressure from the right sometimes holds more sway than ours.”

Quezada says the immigrant community is frustrated because it’s almost two years since Obama got elected, in part because of his promise to bring millions of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. But to date, the Obama administration has not created a mechanism to even allow people to start getting in line to legalize their status.

‘There is no line to wait in,” Quezada said. “All these folks would be willing to wait in line, but there isn’t one for these 11 million people. We need legislative fixes.”

Quezada acknowledges that many Republicans will try to stop or amend any such fixes in unacceptable ways.

“We are worried that if the Dream Act goes ahead as a stand-alone bill, the right will try and put harsh enforcement measures into the bill,” Quezada said. “So, we have to ask, are we willing to live with that, if it helps 11 million people? How about, if it only helps 2 million? These are the questions the Hispanic Caucus is conflicted about. But what if we end up with amendments that would really hurt and the bill only helps 2 million people?”

With immigrant advocates arguing that comprehensive immigration reform would translate into $1.5 trillion in cumulative U.S. gross domestic product, the fireworks over the Arizona law and similar efforts in other states, aren’t about to stop soon.

But Quezada warns folks against insisting on an ideologically pure approach if they want to win this particular war.

‘If our position is open borders and legalization for everyone, then it won’t be obtainable, and we’d be leaving a lot of people in the lurch," Quezada said We need 270 votes in the Senate and Congress, and we want relief for our people. We can no longer count on our sanctuary city to protect us. And the second we stop paying attention to this issue, they’ll eliminate some other piece of [existing protections and services for immigrants]. A lot of groups don’t want to engage in legislation that isn’t perfect. But only from a unified front will anything get done.”

With that aim in mind, Quezada says that immigrant advocates must work with evangelical churches and Republicans who are willing to support a reform package.
“Evangelical churches may sound like an unlikely ally, but we have to work with them, it’s the responsible thing to do. And we need to win and gain some Republican support, at least enough votes to get to the 60-vote threshold.”


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