Defining “la Familia” : National Day of Immigration Action

Today is supposed to be a big day for the immigration reform movement(s). It is being called a National Day of Action organized , with some events already having taken place and more planned for today including people meeting with members of Congress and a vigil on the West Lawn of the Capitol, calling for family unity. That is the theme of today, la familia and keeping it together in the face of a politic and policy that seeks to weaken togetherness. Leading the charge politically is Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who will propose his own immigration reform bill this month.

What I am most curious about is how family ends up being defined. What makes a family and what makes that family deserving of being kept together? Maria Gurrola and Cirila Baltazar Cruz both headed families and had their rights as mothers interfered with because of their immigration status, presumed or actual. And what of those inside immigrant detention facilities, however “reformed” they become? Are they not part of families?

Gutierrez’s bill is expected to be more “left” than any of the other proposals on comprehensive immigration reform so far and hopefully will revive the immigration issue beyond those of us who have been talking about it for years because it is a part of our lives, not a part of our jobs. Today Gutierrez will release the “values” behind what will be his immigration bill. From a press release:

“I am overwhelmed by the support of immigrant, faith-based and community-based organizations in urging me to introduce comprehensive immigration legislation. I look forward to joining them on Tuesday so that I can share with them more specifically the key principles that will form the basis of such a bill,” said Rep. Gutierrez.

Here’s what concerns me, and I say this with love and knowing how hard coalition politics is, the faith-based community, while being supportive of immigrants especially mothers like Elvira Arellano but not so good about including LGBT families in their defining of families. Will LGBT families be deemed worthy of defending?

“We simply cannot wait any longer for a bill that keeps our families together, protects our workers and allows a pathway to legalization for those who have earned it,” continued Rep. Gutierrez. “Saying immigration is a priority for this Administration or this Congress is not the same as seeing tangible action, and the longer we wait, the more every single piece of legislation we debate will be obstructed by our failure to pass comprehensive reform.”

How is citizenship earned? A la DREAM Act with good grades and a willingness to join the U.S. military? A willingness to prove some sort of “guilt” via paying a fine or admitting an “illegal status”?

“We need a bill that says if you come here to hurt our communities, we will not support you; but if you are here to work hard and to make a better life for your family, you will have the opportunity to earn your citizenship. We need a law that says it is un-American for a mother to be torn from her child, and it is unacceptable to undermine our workforce by driving the most vulnerable among us further into the shadows.”

“I believe the support base for this kind of compassionate and comprehensive legislation is strong and far reaching, and I believe the votes are there to pass it. I have always said that immigration reform will not be easy; but it is time we had a workable plan working its way through Congress that recognizes the vast contributions of immigrants to this country and that honors the American Dream.”

I think very few people come to the United States with the intent to hurt the U.S. Rather what happens is that immigrants arrive and are quickly faced with a reality that includes racial profiling and enforcement first policies that criminalize them and push them into shadow economies as a way to support themselves and their families. When the American Dream is eaten alive by the American Nightmare how to protect those who live that scary reality?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m genuinely enthusiastic to see/hear what Gutierrez brings. I am much more likely to support him as a champion over Sen. Schumer. But I will not jump on a bandwagon just to move the debate forward if people get thrown under the bus.

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