South Bay Latinx community starts push for immigration reform in Biden administration
Maritza Maldonado, executive director of Amigos de Guadalupe, speaks at a rally in San Jose Nov. 13, 2020, calling for immigration reform. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

While President-elect Joe Biden plans how to meet the challenges facing the nation, San Jose’s Latinx community is creating a strategy for immigration reform.

The Si Se Puede Collective will be asking local officials to sign a list of demands, which include a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, ending raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), reuniting families of children being held in cages and COVID-19 relief funding.

Camille Llanes-Fontanilla, executive director of SOMOS Mayfair, said the collective is standing with its immigrant community against what she called racist and unjust policies. With a combined budget of more than $10 million, the collective serves more than 10,000 people in East San Jose.

“Our moment is now to rise up as one community,” Llanes-Fontanilla said at a rally at Mexican Heritage Plaza Nov. 13 in announcing the effort. “We will no longer be the drivers of this economy … while being demeaned, forced into the shadows, separated from our children, living in fear. Together, we demand policies that recognize people as full human beings with dignity and self-determination.”

According to Priya Murthy, policy and advocacy director of Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network, there are about 23,000 DACA-eligible individuals and more than 134,000 undocumented immigrants in Santa Clara County. On June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA.

DACA grants temporary protection from deportation and authorization for a work permit for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States before age 16.

Maritza Maldonado, executive director of Amigos de Guadalupe, said the collective is counting on Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and other federal officials to support immigration reform.

“Racist policies, attitudes, behavior and oppressive policies need to stop,” said Maldonado. “We will not be silent.”

Maldonado said immigrants faced a host of challenges during the pandemic. Undocumented people were unable to return home to bury their parents. Some lost jobs of 25 years after contracting COVID-19.

“The climate of our country makes these kinds of abuses of humanity acceptable to our current president and his followers,” Maldonado said.

The Si Se Puede Collective is doing grassroots organizing to gather signatures and build a coalition with other nonprofits.

Shane Patrick Connolly, chair of the Santa Clara County Republican Party, said immigration requires safeguards.

“It’s crazy to think a president would let people flood in again after we got it under control by Mexico doing some additional work on their borders and having people apply for asylum,” Connolly said. “In a COVID-19 world, it’s absolutely insane.”

However, Lofgren said she agrees with the collective’s goals and that Biden is in favor of immigration reform.

“President-elect Biden has indicated he intends to reunite children with parents and stop separating children from their families, pause ICE raids and protect the DREAMers,” Lofgren said.

DREAMers, who get their name from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, are undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors. The act would bestow DREAMers temporary residency, a work permit and future eligibility for citizenship.

Lofgren said some of the collective’s demands would require changing laws, which will be influenced by whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate.

“Right now, the Republicans control the Senate and Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has shown no willingness to take up the immigration reform bills we have already sent him,” Lofgren told San José Spotlight. “The House sent a bill to allow DREAMers to gain legal residence and citizenship more than a year ago, and he has yet to put it up for a vote.”

Connolly disagrees with people who share Lofgren’s “all or nothing” approach.

“They want everything they want and no compromise,” Connolly said. “She wants amnesty for millions, unlimited family reunification… and those are problematic from the conservative perspective.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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