Immigration reform on the table at A Better San Diego breakfast forum

A Better San Diego, a collection of community and faith groups largely backed by local labor unions, held the latest in its series of ongoing monthly breakfast forums on Friday (March 15), inviting three pro-immigration reform speakers to comprise a panel of speakers on the issue.

Before convening the panel, San Diego city councilman David Alvarez appeared to publicize a resolution he intends to present to the council’s Rules Committee at a Wednesday morning meeting calling for a federal immigration initiative.

“We want comprehensive immigration reform that leads to a pathway to citizenship. That should be the goal of reform,” Alvarez said, calling on community members to contact their council representatives to voice support for such a measure.

“When folks who don’t have proper documentation, they’re less likely to be able to assert their rights at work, they’re more likely to be subject to wage theft, they’re more likely to be employed by people who don’t have [worker’s compensation insurance], they’re more likely to not have health insurance, and they’re less likely to be able to express their desire or their right to collectively bargain in the workplace,” said San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council secretary-treasurer and candidate for the 80th district state Assembly seat, who seeks to replace Ben Hueso, winner of a special election to fill Juan Vargas’s state Senate seat.

Pedro Rios, chair of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, was the first panel member to present.

“San Diego plays a key role in the perspective that it offers, and we need to ensure that we bring forward all of our qualities, and our diverse society, as we move toward efficient policies and accountable policies that provide dignity for all of our communities,” said Rios, urging San Diego and the region’s national representatives to weigh in vocally on the shaping of any nationally proposed or adopted policy.

Yohanna White, a recent UCSD grad with a science major who emigrated from the Philippines at age four without her parents obtaining proper documentation, was next to speak.

“I never thought about my immigration status, because I never knew about it, and my parents never told me,” White says about growing up in Southern California. “But later I realized there were a lot of things I couldn’t do, such as get my driver’s license, do an internship, get a bank account, or apply for financial aid.”

White says that “suddenly everything changed” after she was able to obtain legal residency.

“I could see job prospects, and the possibility of giving back to the community through science,” she says. “Every time I apply for an interview I’m really grateful that I have this opportunity.”

Norma Chavez-Peterson, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, was last to present.

Chavez-Peterson says she emigrated from Michoacán, Mexico at age four or five illegally and had her immigration status normalized through amnesty in 1986.

“There’s a ‘conservative pac’ convention [the Conservative Political Action Conference] in DC, an they’re being told to change their language,” Chavez-Peterson said, speaking of the GOP’s softening stance on immigration issues. “This whole thing is politics, it’s political. This has to do with their perspective about how to continue to be viable with Latinos or other ethnic voters.”

She continued, suggesting a “brass tacks coalition” consisting of “unusual suspects” is emerging in support of revised immigration policy.

“When have you seen the farm bureau and labor stand at a press conference” backing the same side of an issue, Chavez Peterson asked, speaking of the broad coalition of immigration reform supporters that has coalesced recently.

“There has been a shift in the country, and there are all sorts of different reasons for it.”

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