CIR ASAP: Working Toward a Comprehensive POC Coalition

by Latoya Peterson

Alongside the Health Care bill, another major piece of legislation working its way through the United States Congress is The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP) Act of 2009. Designed to rectify a litany of concerns facing those currently immigrating or tangled somewhere along the way in our legal system.

Nezua explains the thinking and motivation behind CIR ASAP:

On Tuesday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR-ASAP). Rep. Gutierrez said that the bill represents “the final push for comprehensive immigration reform,” as Khalil Abdullah reports for New America Media. Seth Hoy at AlterNet breaks down some of the bill’s key points, which include a border security provisions, family unification, a legalization component, and improved detention conditions.

The legislation is an encouraging first step forward on the path to immigration reform. But many hurdles must be overcome before an immigration bill from the House or Senate becomes law, especially in today’s tense political environment. Outright antagonism from the nativist lobby or the far Right will be no small part of the challenge, no matter how concessionary the legislation is to Republicans.

CIR ASAP is amazingly thorough, touching on border security, detention and enforcement, employment verification, visa reforms, earned legalization programs for the undocumented, details on how the reform will strengthen the US economy and workforce, and tackles the problems with integrating new Americans (with a special focus on rising fees and the naturalization process).

However, the bill has not been without controversy. Outside of the general right-wing protests against immigration, the bill has also drawn fire from GLBT activists and allies, who point out that the legislation excludes people who are not in heterosexual families, despite the focus of the bill on “reuniting families.”  As Maegan La Mamita Mala writes for Vivir Latino:

On more than one occasion I asked if GLBT families would be included in the bill and here in the official presentation we all see the answer. No. From a strategic point of view, one reason why GLBT families are excluded is because of the large support from faith organizations. When I say faith organizations, I am specifically speaking of Evangelical Christian groups and Catholic organizations, the same organizations who made sure that marriage equity did not happen in states like mine (NY) and the same organizations who supported amendments like Stupak in the health reform bill. But I have a suggestion based on recent statements from a so-called superstar in the Evangelical movement, Rick Warren (trust me I didn’t think I would ever quote him either).

Last week, Pastor Warren, who gave the invocation at Obama’s inauguration and not without controversy, made a public statement opposing the Ugandan legislation that increases penalties for being gay (including prison time). Warren said that he opposed the law because it was “unjust, extreme, and in-Christian”.
Now, let us imagine an undocumented family who wants to take advantage of the proposed CIR legislation. Let’s even say they have children because plenty of LGBT families do. They cannot. Under the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), rights would be provided to the children or step-children of a foreign-born same sex partner. But UAFA language is not included in the Gutierrez bill.

The bill’s authors are fighting to mobilize our communities for support, so I listened in on last Thursday’s API Conference call hosted by Representative Mike Honda.  Nezua listened in on the SEIU call, which happened last Monday.  After the jump, I’ll add some notes from both calls, discuss some of the issues that came up concerning cross community organizing, and present the answer given with the API organizers were asked about the LGBT issue within the bill.During the SEIU call Nezua summarized, much of what was discussed concerned politics – mostly implementation and support from the White House.

JG, Politico: A lot of talk from congress and White House saying they will be creating jobs. Do you have any concern that intense focus on the employment rate would be something to scare some legislative leaders away from CIR?

SEIU: I think that what we need to focus on is economic recovery. Making sure we create good jobs for American workers. I see CIR as part and parcel of coming up with an economic recovery program. So I hope Congress begins to understand this strategy is a good one…

Derek Cain: What makes you think Congress is at all interested in taking on such a volatile issue on an election year?

SEIU: If there is an issue with widespread support, this is it. Lot of polling shows that well over 2/3 of US people want to see CIR passed. Secondly, business is fully in support of this. SEIU and Chamber of congress dont get along on many issues. But on this one we are of one mind. I’ve met with many employers around the country who feel the same and are communicating this to Congress. Community groups, too…The only ones who dont want to see this happen are nativist orgs who will never be for anything that means making sure we have an immigration system that works and they are a small minority of the US people. [...]

Nezua of The Media Consortium/TheUnapologeticMexican.Org: Thank you for taking this stance. In my experience also, most people want reform passed, to see human rights given to all people in our nation. But there is a small faction of anti-immigrant voices, orgs centered around John Tanton with white supremacist and very questionable affiliations that get the media’s ear too often, using questionable stats and facts all molded by their agenda. The independent media seems to get this, and yet the MSM does not for the most part. Do  you have any plans to counter this? Thank you.

SEIU: [I was too busy listening to his response to type while he was talking to me...ironically, I don't remember what he said, but perhaps there was not much he could say to this. The groups like NumbersUSA, CIS, FAIR and other anti-immigration groups move too often under cover and perhaps they hadn't thought of what to do yet. Part of my reason for bringing it up was to remind the rest of the media members on the call what we are dealing with, and introduce the facts in case some weren't aware of John Tanton and the origins of many of these groups].

On my call, Representative Mike Honda (and a representative from his office),  Karen K. Narasaki, the President and Executive Director of the Asian American Justice Center, Eun Sook Lee, the Executive Director, of the National Korean American Services and Education Consortium, and Sara Sadhwani representing the Asian Pacific American Legal Center all focused more on the community aspects of the bill, and the desperate need for more grassroots support, particularly across different communities. Essentially, the Latino community is engaged and mobilized around the issue, but they would like to see much more participation from Asian Americans.  Some of the participants on the call also openly wondered why there was not more outreach to African-American communities, especially because there is a need for more media around this.  In addition, the organizers need more people who are bilingual to help share information, and need more op-eds written on the subject of immigration reform.  Once the call opened up to (pre-submitted) questions, the conversation got really interesting.  One person asked about the involvement of the Congressional Black Caucus, particularly as there are immigrants of every color that would benefit from this kind of reform.  The answer was that some members of the caucus are involved, but overall, the cross-community collaboration needs to be stepped up to achieve results.

Another key point came up in regards to how immigration impacts other communities – part of the resistance does occur on the community level where there are finite resources (like a loss of jobs) which forces residents to feel as though they are in competition with immigrants.  The organizers pointed out that the media carries quite a bit of the burden here – while immigrants put more money into local communities, pay more in taxes, take less in benefits, these facts are rarely reported, and often misreported. However, one of the organizers (I think this was Narasaki) mentioned that “we can’t support CIR at the cost of other communities, we need to coordinating events to support their work as well.”

Then, someone dropped the GLBT bomb, which did cause a bit of a pause.  Luckily, the organizers of the call didn’t shy away from the need for provisions to include our full community.  However, most were skeptical that the provision would make it through Congress.  Eun Sook Lee mentioned that there are two bills on the move. She says,  “We think it’s a long road ahead…I know that our communities support it, what do we do to make sure that is included and supported within the final bill.”  Lee also mentioned that various members of the constituencies are also LGBT, and helped to craft the bill, but, like everything else in the bill “we should not take anything for granted.” At the sponsoring committee level, the representative for Mike Honda says there is support, and that the Uniting Families Act can also be a venue for LGBT rights.
The call wrapped, with two more messages from Representative Honda: Make an effort to get Congress to co-sponsor the CIR ASAP act and Participate in Week of Action in January.  More details on the last bit are forthcoming.

How can you help?  Here are many different ways to take action.  There are more ways to get involved at AdvancingEquality.org. I sent a letter to my senator.