Immigration: A look back and ahead

by Melanie Davis
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Dream Act rally
Richard Jones El Hispanic News Writer Portland, OR — December 2010 brought more than its share of disappointments to Hispanic civil rights advocates. The story closest to home concerns a former Rex Putnam High School student body president. In September 2010 Héctor López was deported to Mexico — a country that he has no memory of. López had committed the crime of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border at the age of six weeks. Through some aggressive work by López’ lawyer, Ralph Isenberg, his fight to return to the U.S. shows promise. National issues focused on various aspects of immigration. Perhaps the most difficult pill for Latinos to swallow was the failure of the U.S. Senate to allow a vote on the DREAM Act — the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.†The most ominous rumbles come from two conflicts as broad as daunting the Grand Canyon. Arizona cracks down Arizona generated two related stories that may — or may not — turn out unfavorably for Latinos. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, despite a federal judge ruling that parts of that bill contained unconstitutional sections. In Tucson, a battle is shaping over the right for public schools to offer courses in Mexican-American history and culture. Outgoing Arizona Schools Superintendent Tom Horne objects to such classes while Tucson school Superintendent John Pedicone wants them to continue. Horne may have the upper hand since he is Arizona’s new attorney general. Horne promised that one of his first acts as attorney general will be cite Tucson schools for violations of state laws. Pedicone pragmatically argues that 70 to 75 percent of students taking Hispanic-oriented classes will go to college, while only 20 to 25 percent of those who don’t will attend college. At issue is — at the very least — the withdrawal of state funds to Tucson schools. Officials in at least six others states will be watching Arizona to learn the fate of SB 1070 and Hispanic culture classes. On an ABC radio feature, several Latinos, both documented and not, said they planned to move to another state. The prospect of being stopped by police who thought they looked as if they might be undocumented immigrants and being required to furnish identification struck them as oppressive. Both California and Nevada are seen as more friendly. Dream Act march in PortlandImmigration reform possible? Not only did no significant comprehensive immigration reform bill come up for a vote in Congress in 2010, but the DREAM Act got frozen in the U.S. Senate. In December the DREAM Act got tossed out despite having a majority in both the U.S. Senate and the House of representatives. The House passed it by a slim 216 to 198 margin. In the Senate, proponents could not muster the 60 votes to block a threatened Republican filibuster. Although 55 senators voted to bring the DREAM Act to a vote, realities required 60 votes to cut off unlimited speeches likely to come from opponents. Five Democratic senators voted against blocking a filibuster — Max Baucus (MT), Kay Hagan (NC), Ben Nelson (NE), Mark Pryor (AK), and Jon Tester (MT). A sixth Democrat — Joe Manchin (WV) — opted to go to a Christmas party rather than show up on the Senate floor. With the 2010 election putting the House under Republican control, passing a DREAM Act, even a modified version, will be difficult. Former Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT), one of the three Republicans who stood up for the DREAM Act, will not be a member of the 112th Congress. His successor, conservative Republican Mike Lee, has staked out a hard-line immigration policy, advocating “investing†money to secure the southern border.†Counter-attack Pro immigration rights groups — CAUSA, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), and the American Immigration Council — have no intention of giving up. Gloria Montaño-Greene, the director of NALEO’s Washington, D.C., office, took an upbeat approach to the 112th Congress. She said that the NALEO would continue to educate incoming Congressional members about Latino issues such as the DREAM Act. “The status quo cannot continue,†she said. NALEO will brief members of Congress on the positive facets of immigration. A report from the Congressional Budget Office claims that passing the DREAM Act would reduce on-budget deficits by about $1.4 billion over the decade and decrease off-budget deficits by about $2.8 billion. She said NALEO has relied upon past members of Congress to work with current members. She said that experienced members, such as Bennett, are very valuable. Passing the DREAM Act and other legislation, she said, is “a challenge that Latinos can rise to.†Wendy Sefsaf, communications director for the American Immigration Council, noted that most of the first week of the 112th Congress would focus on committee assignments. Sefsaf said she would take the measure of what Republican leaders will recommend on the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform. Pointing out a bright spot, Sefsaf says the Obama administration is looking for something they can do to show they are in the Latino’s corner. On the blog of change.org, Prerna Lal was not certain that President Barack Obama would be much help. She claims that the “Obama administration has deported more people than the previous Bush administration … †Lal is co-founder and online coordinator of DreamActivist. She is currently enrolled at the George Washington Law School. Montaño-Greene, Sefsaf, and Lal all looked for the biggest push for promoting DREAM Act “lite†bills would be in state capitols. They cited California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Utah, and Georgia. Sefsak said that some sort of tuition equity program would be a step in the right direction. Eric Sorenson, communications director of CAUSA, says that this Oregon-based group will carry the DREAM Act message to the state legislature. “The Republican Party is having a battle for its soul,†Sefsaf said. “Working on a compromise bill would be very good for their side.†Back in the USA After being shipped to Mexico City by ICE agents, Héctor López found conditions there impossible. With limited fluency in Spanish, he could not find a job. Moreover, Mexican youths of his age threatened López because of his “yanqui†culture. These threats provided the key that Sheridan-Ayala employed to win a new hearing for López. She argued that López faced imminent danger. In November, that approach won Lopez entry into a detention center near Phoenix. In December he was cleared to fly to Portland where he arrived on Christmas Eve. Currently López and Sheridan-Ayala are preparing for a court hearing in Oregon to determine his future.

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Photo 1: Jason Redmond, AP Undocumented college student Jorge Herrera, 18, center, of Carson, Calif., rallies with students and Dream Act supporters in Los Angeles, Dec. 18, 2010. The Dream Act, which failed to move on in the Senate, would have given provisional legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. Photo 2: Julie Cortez, El Hispanic News In these three photos, young people march through downtown Portland in support of the Dream Act on Dec. 15, 2010, the same evening that the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the act. It would ultimately fail to move forward in the Senate.