Immigration reform: California pushes forward

Last December, SN&R published a piece on the early rumblings of a shift in the immigration debate taking place in the US as a result of the Democrats’ slew of victories across California and state politicians pushing back against President Obama’s Secure Communities illegal immigration policy. The San Diego CityBeat ran a version of the story two weeks later.

Well, it looks like we were right.

Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed eight bills related to immigrants’ rights, including a law allowing residents living in California illegally to get drivers licenses, legislation allowing undocumented lawyers to practice in the state, and even Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s TRUST Act.

“While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead,” the Washington Post quotes Moonbeam. “I’m not waiting.”

Indeed, neither are the Californian activists representing the state’s undocumented residents, who make up one-quarter of all illegal immigrants in the United States.

Last night, SN&R attended a private screening of Documented, a documentary both by and about Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Jose Antonio Vargas, who came out two years ago as an undocumented immigrant.

The film comes off a tinge self-aggrandizing, leaving viewers wishing they’d heard undocumented immigrant stories beyond Vargas'. But the panel following the screening was compelling, with the likes of undocumented lawyer Sergio Garcia and day labor rights activist Pablo Avarado on hand.

The tone of the night was decidedly celebratory, with panelists lauding California’s recent immigration legislation, before then turning their dialogue to other battleground states set for the near future: Arizona, Texas, Florida and Ohio.

Earlier in the day, Sac State student activists headed a protest outside the California Republican headquarters on L and 11th streets, reminding the state GOP that the immigration constituency–particularly the Latino vote–will remember their voting record in upcoming elections.

A group of Latina students were the brains behind this demonstration, working with Sac State professor of Chicano Studies, Eric Vega, to put together the Immigration Working Group. [They assured me this was just a temporary name when I chuckled at its refreshing simplicity.]

One of the students present was Isela Martinez, a 24-year-old studying government and international relations. Martinez, an undocumented woman, spent her late teens in rural Healdsburg, California, afraid to let others in on her immigration status. Like Jose Antonio Vargas, she found out she was undocumented when she started looking into getting her driver’s license.

“I think my biggest fear was, what would my friends say?” she said, explaining that, during the first rise of immigrant protests in 2006, some of her classmates voiced strong disapproval toward the undocumented community.

Today, however, Martinez is out in the open, alongside countless other undocumented Californians. Like Vargas, Garcia and Alvarado, she will continue her battle for immigrants’ rights.

As soon as she and her colleagues rename their working group.

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