In Virtual Town Hall with Immigration Reform Activists, Gutierrez Promises Bill By December

Pro-immigration reform activists gathered in Washington D.C. to listen in on Rep. Gutierrez virtual town hall - Photo: Jelena Kopanja.

Ben de Guzman, first from left, Ronald Lee and other activists gathered in Washington D.C. to listen in on Rep. Gutierrez virtual town hall. (Photo: Jelena Kopanja)

Activists gathered Wednesday night at house parties across the country in a day of action for comprehensive immigration reform organized by the Reform Immigration for America campaign. According to organizers, some 16,000 telephone lines were connected in a virtual town hall meeting in which Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D.-Ill.) announced that his reform bill will be ready in December, despite his earlier promise to introduce it last October or “soon thereafter.”

Several activists gathered to join the conference call at the Asian-American Justice Center (AAJC) in Washington D.C. After last week’s speech by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, they felt reassured that immigration reform remains a priority for the Obama administration, which has promised action at the beginning of 2010.

For Ronald Lee, senior staff attorney at AAJC, the movement is much stronger today than two years ago when comprehensive immigration reform failed, in part, due to disunity among activists.

“The message I think was not clear, and in some ways not as unified as it needed to be across many groups that are allies,” Lee said. “Our messages may have conflated with each other or conflicted with each other. I think now, we are learning from our mistakes and we are providing a much more unified front.”

Rep. Gutierrez’s did not offer more details about his proposal than those he had announced at an immigration reform march in October. But organizers called for a week of action between Jan. 12 and 20, when a campaign will be launched to push for the immigration overhaul.

“All of us are already anticipating that there will be aspects of it that we are not going to like,” Lee said. “But what we are trying to do, and what we believe Rep. Gutierrez is trying to do is to come up with something that at least is as reflective as possible of a progressive vision of comprehensive immigration reform, and then see what compromises might need to be made down the line.”

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The immigration reform movement is diverse, and so are its needs. But the media may be focusing on the most contentious parts of the reform –amnesty and legalization–, issues that are linked in the public’s mind to Latino populations, said Ben de Guzman, co-director of programs at the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA).

Yet groups such as Asians and Pacific Islanders are just as invested in the outcome of the reform.

“The problem I see is that sometimes it gets divided, like, Latinos care about the undocumented and Asians care about family reunification, when in fact, we all care about both,” de Guzman said.

Family unity is one compromise that can’t be made, Lee said.

“We have to fight for recognition of family unity as a critical component, and if there is really a wholesale rejection of that, for example a complete switch away from a family immigration system to a points system –where immigrants are rated on various metrics– that sort of philosophical shift is something that will be very, very hard for us to accept.”

But “family” is a term that is often hotly debated. For an LGBT activist like de Guzman, the “Uniting American Families Act” that would allow same-sex partners of U.S. residents or citizens to petition for legal residency is an important provision.

“I would have asked (Gutierrez), is that going to be in your bill, Sir? Because if not, then it is going to be that much harder –because it is two communities that are already controversial– immigrants and gay folks,” he said.

“We do our work, we make our phone calls, we do our faxes, but whatever gets passed, that is what we have to work with,” he added. “Whether it is as progressive as some of us want it to be or not, that’s what we deal with.”

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