Mission District residents were skeptical about President Barack Obama’s promise late last week to take up a new immigration bill, but said one item remains at the top of their wish list: legalization.
“The most crucial thing is to provide a path to legalization for the 11.5 million undocumented workers who are here,” said Ana Pérez, executive director of CARECEN, a resource center for Central-American immigrant families.
Pérez noted that out of all the undocumented people in the United States, almost 75 percent live in families, and of those, 73 percent are mixed status families. That means that in one family, some of the members may be citizens or residents, while others are undocumented.
She also pointed to 287 (g) agreements that authorize state and local law enforcement to perform immigration law enforcement functions. “Local police are increasing the number of arrests … we’re seeing things like people who are getting overcharged or not charged at all, and then being held in jail, with no charges, for even six hours, and then by the time we get to them they already have a deportation hold,” she said.
Even in cities without such agreements, “the administration is … aggressively going through the jails to deport whoever is there that may be undocumented,” added Pérez.
Marisela Alvarez, family resource specialist at La Raza Community Resource Center, said she would like to see a law where undocumented workers “were allowed to pay a fine for having entered illegally, and stay in the country,” she suggested.
Alvarez also mentioned that the administration should consider “students or minors who did not have a knowledge, who did not make the choice to come to this country in this way.” She added a lack of legal status means that, “in our community, the majority of young people cannot have a career or continue their studies.”
Juana Flores, co-director for Programs for Mujeres Unidas y Activas, an organization of Latino immigrant women, wants a reform that isn’t “putting obstacles on anyone.”
She echoed Pérez on the need to stop deporting immigrants after they are picked up for minor violations.
Barbara Lopez, who works with immigrant families every day for La Voz Latina at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said that family separation takes on a different dimension for LGBT families of mixed status.
Because same-sex marriage is not yet recognized a the federal level, a gay couple cannot resort to it as a means for legalization, even if they are married in a state that allows same-sex marriage.
Betty Canton-Self, of New Beginnings Immigration Services, an organization that helps new immigrants integrate into American society, noted that “there are communities who come with very needed professions, like doctors, professors, nurses, or with artistic abilities or technical abilities.”
“A labor force is being wasted because pathways are not being opened to that economic integration, a reform should ensure an access to the skills people may bring,” she said.
“The world is diverse, migration is a world phenomenon, it is not a problem, but an opportunity to unite … communities, to have a chance to live diversity,” added Canton-Self.
Jose Raxon, a business owner, said he would like to see more funds dedicated to educating people about their rights and about the importance of participating in the census.
Socorro Beltran is a permanent resident who came from Mexico with her husband 36 years ago, when they were still newlyweds. She said she supported legalization.
“I was lucky to come here the right way, but I have friends, people at work who have worked hard, who deserve to have their documents, they do their taxes, they are people of good moral character,” she said. “As immigrants we are human beings and we all need to look for a job, to look for survival.”
Although many offered up a wish list for immigration reform, some doubted that anything would change for the better.
“For Latinos there will be no changes, it’s just a political platform,” said Javier Barrionuevo, who works at his father-in-law’s sport supply store on 24th Street.
Barrionuevo immigrated from Argentina ten years ago. “I hope I’m wrong and that they actually do something.”
A man sitting at a table inside Jelly Donut on 24th Street, who declined to give his name because of his undocumented status, said he has been in the country for four years working in restaurants. In that time he has gone back to Mexico to see his wife and children three times.
He would like to see a reform where temporary workers could find it easier to enter or leave the country for work. “Many have died along the way,” he said.
He says he stays out of trouble because he knows that if he gets a ticket or is arrested for something, it could lead to deportation. “We live very well in order to not get in trouble with the law, on anything.” He won’t even risk riding the MUNI without a pass.