I attended a lively, well-attended and diverse -- meaning age, Latino background and allies -- Latino Caucus at the Netroots Nation Convention in Las Vegas yesterday. The caucus was headed by Nicole Rivera, who is a field representative for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and it did not disappoint.
At the heart of the conversation was how to pass the DREAM Act to help undocumented Latino college students -- who were represented at the caucus, by the way! -- achieve conditional permanent residency. Also, we discussed coalition-building to pass comprehensive immigration reform to meet the demand for labor in this country as well as a reasonable path to residency and citizenship so that people don't have to cross the border illegally.
There was big-time concern over racial profiling, especially in light of Arizona's proposed law, SB 1070, which would require local police to ask for documentation of anyone under "reasonable suspicion" of being in the country illegally. Carmen Cornejo, who lives in Arizona, said so much tension and animosity has arisen from the proposed law that her son was questioned by police simply for "looking suspicious" on his walk home. Also, she said that one politician running for office in Arizona has proposing less than ethical ways to combat illegal immigration like cutting off the electricity of people suspected of harboring undocumented immigrants -- in Arizona's 110-degree heat, mind you.
"(Arizona's law) SB 1070 brings this antagonism between the Latino community and the rest of the community in a painful way," she said. "It is very, very nasty."
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There was agreement in the room that the public is not reading enough stories about the racial profiling that is going on due to heightened fears and xenophobia.
Cori Redstone, an organizer in Utah, brought up this civil rights infringement in the name of citizen immigration law enforcement. An actual list of Latino families, their social security numbers and personal information like "baby due 4/4/10" actually circulated offline and on the Internet, causing for some families to receive threatening phone calls and face harassment. The problem is not all the families on the list were undocumented, yet their privacy was violated, Redstone said. (Update: there is a criminal investigation into the person/people who compiled the list.)
Redstone proposed building a coalition to pass immigration reform like the churches. The Church of Latter Day Saints in Utah, for example, has issued a statement calling for "the strongest desire to do what is best for all of God’s children."
Finally, we discussed ways to frame the issue so that immigration reform is not only a "Latino issue," but an American issue that warrants the public's attention. Here were a couple of suggestions: