An immigrant rights march planned on Sunday is expected to draw over 100,000 people from a broad coalition of groups across the country to call on President Obama live up to his promises and Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We speak with members of La Raza and Make the Road New York. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama has pledged to move forward on immigration reform and embraced a draft plan from Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham for overhauling the nation’s immigration system. In a statement released by the White House Thursday, Obama praised the senators’, quote, “promising bipartisan framework,” adding that it, quote, “can and should be the basis for moving forward.” The four-point proposal from Senators Schumer and Graham includes high-tech identification cards, bolstering border security, creating a process for admitting temporary workers, and implementing a, quote, “tough but fair path” for legalization.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the announcement comes just before a planned march on Washington this Sunday called by immigrant rights advocates. Over 100,000 people from a broad coalition of groups across the country are expected to rally at the National Mall, demanding President Obama live up to his promises and Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform.
We’re joined now in Washington, DC by a lead organizer of Sunday’s march, Clarissa Martinez De Castro, the director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La Raza.
Clarissa, you met with President Obama. What were your demands? What did you talk to him about this past week?
CLARISSA MARTINEZ DE CASTRO: One of the main purposes of that meeting was to make sure the administration understood very clearly the state of emergency that immigrant communities are living in every day and that that state of emergency is created by inaction on immigration reform. We have heard commitments from the administration in the past, as well as from Congress, to do something to finally address this issue, but we haven’t seen a lot of real action. So the idea was that they needed to start demonstrating very clearly steps to get there. And we have seen some of these steps happen this week, leading up to the march on Sunday.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Clarissa, this promises — it looks like it’s going to be the largest protest march of the Obama administration so far, and it seems that already there has been enormous reaction by the administration and by Congress just as you were organizing the march. There were a series of meetings that the President held. Luis Gutierrez, the congressman from Chicago, who has been a leading advocate of immigration reform, said, I think just yesterday, that he promised to vote for health reform on the basis that the administration was promising that it would move forward on immigration reform this year. So you’re already getting a lot of at least verbal support. The question is, will it be translated into action in Congress? And could you give us a sense of what you feel about the proposals of Senator Schumer and Lindsey Graham?
CLARISSA MARTINEZ DE CASTRO: Sure. First, let me say that, you know, certainly my organization is part of March for America, but it is important to know that there are over 700 organizations across the country who are part of this effort, and it is that combined energy that it’s bringing these results.
Yesterday, as you mentioned, Senator Schumer, Democrat from New York, and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, unveiled some broad parameters of what they’re proposing will be then turned into a legislative vehicle. There’s not a great deal of detail in those parameters at this point. So we look forward to those ideas being swiftly translated into a legislative vehicle that then we can analyze in detail. So far they’re talking about four pillars that will drive that bipartisan proposal, and they deal largely, as they describe them, with border security, worker flows, which means legal immigration issues, with worker eligibility verification to work, and with a legalization program.
AMY GOODMAN: Clarissa, La Raza opposed the healthcare reform bill?
CLARISSA MARTINEZ DE CASTRO: We issued our statement yesterday, that we didn’t think it really addressed the needs of the most vulnerable among our populations.
JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined here in New York by Ana Maria Archila of the community organization Make the Road by Walking [Make the Road New York].
Welcome to Democracy Now!
ANA MARIA ARCHILA: Thank you so much.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The importance of this march, this upcoming march, and the need to get comprehensive immigration reform this year, if possible, could you talk about that?
ANA MARIA ARCHILA: Yes. Well, immigrant communities across the country have been waiting and waiting to see a real solution to the crisis that we have. We have a legal system that basically creates a second class of non-citizens that are easily exploitable; that are exploited at work every day; that, when they go into the detention centers, do not have any sense of due process; that are forced to live in fear and are facing the realities of being separated by their — from their families. And so, this legal system has existed in this country for too long, so long that now we have 12 million people who are undocumented and who live under these conditions every day.
So, all of us worked really hard to make sure that — to create a different political space in the country. Back before the elections, in 2006, millions of people came out to march. Millions of people who could lose their jobs, who were afraid of government, came out and took over the public space to say this needs to change. In 2008, over ten million Latinos helped elect President Obama, helped put the Democrats in control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, with the promise that immigration reform would be a priority. And nothing — there hasn’t been real movement.
And at the same time, there are people like Marta Freire, one of our members who lives in Queens, a woman from Ecuador, undocumented women, who, in 9/11, was one of the cleanup workers after 9/11. She now has developed cancer, terminal cancer, and she wants to be able to see her daughters. She wants to be able to travel to her country and say goodbye to her daughters before she dies, after she did the work that she did for this country. There are many stories like Marta’s story, and that’s why people are marching on Sunday, to make sure that the message of restoring dignity and opportunity to millions of people that have done so many things to make this country strong, that that promise that was — that Obama made and that members of Congress made is actually kept.
JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the things I think I was struck by, in terms of the parameters that were unveiled by Senators Schumer and Lindsey Graham, was that there’s going to be an emphasis, in terms of future immigration, more on high-tech workers, rather than on blue-collar workers, basically bringing in more computer and scientific workers from — expanding the H-1B portion of immigration and reducing the number of low-income workers that are coming in the country. Do you have some concerns still about some of the issues that are being raised by Senator Schumer and Senator Graham?
ANA MARIA ARCHILA: Well, so we have — so, first, I want to say I think the organizing that has happened in immigrant communities, both street organizing and political organizing, has taken us this far. We were able to get President Obama to meet with immigration advocates. We were able to start seeing some action in the Senate. So that’s great.
The parameters that are established by the op-ed that Senators Schumer and Graham published yesterday do emphasize quite heavily enforcement and also emphasize quite heavily what you mentioned, which is creating flows for migration for kind of highly educated immigrants. We know that that’s one of the interests of businesses in this country, is being able to retain — attract and retain people who are highly skilled. But we also know that the reality of this country is that some of the industries that are growing fastest are not the high-tech industries, are not those industries, are other industries that we also need to keep in this country. So there needs to be a way to look at the future and think about how to welcome workers in a way that is organized, that is orderly, and that also protects and respects the rights of those workers. And we look forward to working on those details.
AMY GOODMAN: Clarissa Martinez De Castro in Washington, I wanted to go back to that issue of healthcare. It’s very significant. You’ve come out with a statement yesterday. Why do you feel the healthcare reform bill does not help the most vulnerable immigrants in this country?
CLARISSA MARTINEZ DE CASTRO: Well, we — granted, we understand that the fight over healthcare is very difficult. We also believe that one of the purposes should be to remove the structural barriers to those people who are having a hard time either obtaining healthcare or obtaining quality healthcare. In the case of the Latino community, we have one of the largest uninsured populations. And we feel that there was a real opportunity here to right a wrong that was done in the past, where we started treating legal immigrants and US citizens as if they were different classes of people. There was a real opportunity to do that. We know that many folks try to manipulate the immigration issue to block healthcare reform. This is a recurring problem and, there again, one of the reasons why we need to do immigration reform.
But there was — but instead of standing strong on principles of healthcare reform, what we saw was that instead of undoing that wrong that prevents legal immigrants who are contributing to our society from that being treated differently, that that stayed in there. So there was an opportunity to do that, to remove structural barriers that had been artificially created, and instead of that, they stayed in place, and we added some others.
This is a very difficult position for us to take. We understand how much the country needs healthcare. But we also understand that when you have an opportunity to truly address the barriers that are preventing communities across the country from really accessing care, that we need to do a better job. And we need to be mindful of how the most vulnerable among us are treated in those proposals.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Clarissa Martinez, to go back to the immigration reform issue, could you talk about what the impact could possibly be in November if immigration reform is not passed? Obviously there are people like Harry Reid himself, the Senate Majority Leader, who’s facing a tough race in Nevada. What would the message be to the Latino electorate if immigration reform is not passed?
CLARISSA MARTINEZ DE CASTRO: Well, that’s an important point, particularly because, look, the immigration issue has been debated now how many years? So that’s one of the reasons we feel that there can be swift action, because they have debated this issue over and over again. What has stopped it from happening is that it’s become a political football. And first of all, it’s unacceptable that people are seeing their lives come to bitter ends every day or sent away from their children, all because of politics. That’s why it’s time to act.
In terms of Latinos, I think that there’s been a back-and-forth over time about whether Latinos care about immigration or not. Here’s the reality. Latinos care very deeply about bread-and-butter issues, and in the current state of the economy, there’s no question that we’re very concerned about the economy and jobs. But we also care about respect. And that’s how we see the issue of immigration. Even if you’re a tenth generation American, when you’re Latino, the way that this issue gets debated really has a lot to do with how you are regarded and how you are treated. And we have seen a lot of discrimination, increase in hate crimes against the Latino community, due to the vitriol in the immigration debate. That is one of the reasons why this issue has such an energizing power on the civic participation of Latinos and why it drove us to march in 2006, as it will do now, why it drove people to become citizens, and then, citizens native-born and new Americans alike, to vote in 2008.
Some say, hey, this is just — Latinos are just going to become Democrats. That is not the case. But parties have to fight for our vote. For Democrats, action is essential, because promises were made and because the issue has such dire consequences. But for Republicans, progress on this issue and solutions is also essential, if they want to start restoring their relationship with Latinos who are the fastest-growing electorate in the nation. And we’re going to be watching who takes action to try to get this done, who sits on the sideline, and who works to obstruct it. And that’s how it — that’s going to influence our vote in November.
AMY GOODMAN: Clarissa Martinez De Castro, thank you very much for joining us, director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La Raza. And Ana Maria Archila of Make the Road by Walking [Make the Road New York], thank you so much.