May 24, 2013
Congressman Jim Costa hosted Congressman Antonio “Tony” Cardenas of the 29th Congressional District, and many organizations active on immigration reform. Among these organizations were, Communities for a New California, Centro Binacional Para El Desarrollo Indigena Oaxaceno, County Sherrif, agricultural groups, CSU Fresno, Fresno Unified School District, Planned Parenthood and CCEJN among others. The round table served as a discussion forum to voice immigration demands and an organizing forum for the congressmen.
During the meeting Congressman Costa spent time reviewing the language of Senate CIR Bill (S744) or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. This bill creates stronger border enforcement and deportation measures, establishes a road to citizenship for approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S., overhaul the family immigration system, increase workplace enforcement of E-Verify, and creates a new agricultural guest-worker program. Under these provisions immigrants who were present in the U.S. on or before December 31, 2011 will be eligible for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) Status. When RPI status is granted, people will have to register for E-verify, can lawfully work in the U.S., and will await a transition period of 10 years to be eligible to apply for Lawful Permanent Residency (Green Card). During this period persons will not be eligible for an array of federally funded public benefits, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Non-emergency Medic-aid, or the newly established premium tax credits and cost sharing reductions under the Affordable Care Act.
This bill has a special provision for DREMers and agricultural workers. The process for DREAMers–“those who entered the U.S. prior to the age of 16, graduated from high school in the U.S., and attended at least 2 years of college or served 4 years in the military”–will be expedited to a 5 year wait before they are eligible for Lawful Permanent Residency. Agricultural workers will seek to obtain a “Blue Card” if they have worked no less than 100 work days during the 2-year period ending on December 31, 2012. The Blue Card will allow the worker to lawfully work in the U.S., avoid deportation, travel outside of the U.S.as long as the absence does not exceed 180 consecutive days or 180 total days in a calendar year. Like the DREAMers, immigrants under the Blue Card will be eligible for LPR after 5 years.
Congressman Jim Costa expressed that the next 2 months are extremely important to push this bill through before the August legislative recess. He claims that “the momentum is built now” to approve this bill. If the bill doesn’t succeed before August, there may be an opportunity in the fall, but will not carry the same momentum it has now! Congressman Tony Cardenas shares that sentiment and shares that his parents were also immigrants. Part of the 11 million people who “are already looking to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay–and they already do it–but they do it in the shadows.” The emotions in the room were high as people talked about the on going deportations that immigrants are going through daily. Berry Bedwell, President of the California Grape & Fruit Tree League, asked the members in the group to organize and call representatives because currently the anti-immigration organizers are making more calls.
In the San Joaquin Valley one cannot separate immigration reform from environmental justice. As the Central California Environmental Justice Network looks forward to organize our communities to fight environmental injustices, unlawful immigrant farm workers are indispensable to the effort. An immigration bill that provides the comfort to organize for these workers will increase the political efficacy of our group. In the future as these workers and their children reach the ability to vote, the dynamics of the San Joaquin Valley will change drastically as we elect more environmentally conscious officials and vote for more comprehensive studies of environmental hazards. It is important to nourish the voice, autonomy, and political efficacy of these workers now and they will become our allies in the future when we seek to defeat big industry pollutants.