Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dispatch from California: From the Grand Bargain to the Fair Bargain

"It is so hard to see what is happening to us. I feel pain for myself and for the people who work with me. I have been here for 15 years, following crops to different states. I have picked cherries, apples, pears and other fruits. When did I become a criminal? All I want to do is work."- Day Laborer, Stockton, California

The post-mortem on the failed Senate bill is nearly complete. Both political parties have blamed each other for the death of the bill, while the White House has also been accused of pushing too hard by some, and not pushing hard enough by others.

What is certain is that the current immigration system remains broken, out-dated and still in need of substantive structural repairs. What is also certain is that there are 12 million undocumented workers in the United States who will continue to live in the most difficult of conditions, without a real opportunity to adjust their immigration status, and increasingly facing inordinate anti-immigrant measures.

At a recent gathering of farm workers and day laborers in Stockton, California, a participant commented:

"If those who hate us would spend one day or at least one hour with us in the fields, picking fruits or in the factories with us, they would understand our situation and why we are here. We have always tried to do our jobs and earn enough just to support our families. Our hands, our backs and our bodies show the hard work that we have done for decades in this country."

Throughout the past year, AFSC worked with a multitude of local and national allies to change the course and context of the debate. AFSC opposed the restrictive and punitive measures of the proposed legislation, calling on Congressional leaders to design humane policies rather than succumbing to calls for harsher levels of enforcement including increased build-up of the southern border and an additional 25,000 detention beds.

Congressional leaders were unwilling to make bold and visionary policy decisions in what proved to be a difficult and not so kind debate. The backlash has begun but our work must continue. Raids and recent actions in townships and counties raise the alarm that immigrant communities will see the onslaught of heinous measures that exclude them from seeking employment, housing, health or other social services.

In this emerging panorama AFSC will steadfastly continue to provide training, educational resources and organizing tools which help immigrant communities defend their basic human rights, and in their journey for justice and equality in this nation.