By BRENDA RINCON/Coachella Unincorporated
COACHELLA, Calif. – The immigration issue is not about numbers for Esperanza Navarro. As she watched President Obama’s immigration reform speech yesterday, she could not help but think about her recently deported uncle.
“I don’t have any statistics or research or backing, but [immigration reform] is very personal and real for me,” said Navarro, 24, youth coordinator for Building Healthy Communities. “I feel it’s been back and forth with this administration. We’ve been waiting a long time, and I just don’t want to be disappointed again…but I am hopeful.”
That sentiment was echoed by the Eastern Coachella Valley residents who gathered to watch the President outline his plan for comprehensive immigration reform yesterday. With a similar plan unveiled the day before by a bipartisan group of Senators, it seems that long-awaited immigration reform is imminent – but while they are hopeful, this group of residents isn’t holding their breath.
“There is a saying in Mexico that may apply here,” said Mario Lazcano, 63, immigration activist and leader of El Comité Latino. “Del plato a la boca se cae la sopa (the soup can spill from the plate to the mouth).”
In other words, there are many things that could derail the proposed reforms before they come to fruition.
“It looks like many forces in favor of immigration reform have gathered, but we can’t forget that will also be very powerful anti-immigrant forces,” he said, in Spanish. “Immigration is not a political problem, but it has been politicized. It is an economic problem.”
A Unified Voice from out of the Shadows
Another problem residents see is the potential splintering among immigrant groups.
“This is the time for the pro-immigrant groups, from the seniors to the DREAMers, to join together and have their voices heard,” said Yanet Villicana 21, an undocumented college student. “[Reform] is not a given, but we’re almost there. There has to be a movement of all who support our cause in order to make a change.”
Lazcano added, “If we all raise our voices in unison, if we all push together, the likelihood of reform this year is much greater. One of the most beautiful things I’ve heard is when someone asked [an undocumented student] if they wanted the DREAM Act. He said, ‘Yes. But I also want my mom and dad and everyone else to be able to stay.”
In a community where undocumented immigrants feel shame and fear deportation, Cristina Mendez, 34, credits the DREAMer movement with bringing the immigration movement out of the shadows and into the national consciousness.
“When I was in high school, nobody spoke of their immigration status [even as] we were marching against Proposition 187,” said Mendez, an interpreter/translator. “Instead of being the group that bows their head or being the quiet immigrants, the DREAMer movement said, ‘I am from here. I contribute, my parents contribute, and we will continue to do so.’”
Trinidad Arredondo, 29, agrees. “The young people start revolutions, and this we know from our country’s history. The youth have a lot of energy, and the older folks will support their efforts. That is how we can work together.”
Youth in this community have rallied around the DREAMer cause, regardless of their own immigration status.
“Everyone should be afforded the same opportunities,” said American-born Johnny Flores, 15, a reporter for Coachella Unincorporated. “I shouldn’t have the opportunity to attend a great school while my friend, who is an [undocumented] immigrant, might not be able to have the same opportunity just because he wasn’t born in the U.S.”
Fixing a Broken System
Arredondo, project coordinator for Building Healthy Communities, is optimistic because the President spoke of the importance of overhauling the existing immigration processes.
“I knew that [immigration reform] would happen in President Obama’s second term, because the time has come to fix the entire system. I was pleased to hear him say that not only are we going to fix the policies, we are going to fix the system.”
Mendez believes the overhaul of this country’s immigration system could be a turning point for immigrants all over the world.
“The opportunity that presents itself at this moment is not only for the immigrants who live here, but for immigrants all over the world who leave their countries in search of work,” she said. “The United States has an opportunity to create an immigration system that helps the immigrants who support this country’s economy, and this can serve as an example for other countries.”
But Lazcano cautions that, even if the proposed reforms are implemented, they might not be enough. “They are saying they will put us at the back of the line. What does that mean? Right now, it already takes over 20 years for a legal resident to obtain legal residency for a child over age 21.”
Sustaining the Momentum
Residents agreed that the Latino community must continue to play a visible role.
“The opportunity for comprehensive immigration reform is imminent. But we must continue to sustain the momentum built up around this issue in the recent political climate and hold our elected officials accountable,” said Aurora Saldivar, 19, college student and reporter for Coachella Unincorporated. “It’s too personal to not do so.”
Cristian Cabrera, 21, an undocumented college student recently approved for DACA, believes the immigrant community can seize the moment.
“I am hopeful because I know there will be many groups that will push Congress until we get humane immigration reform,” Cabrera said.
Arredondo said the community has come too far on this issue to give up the fight.
“We will achieve immigration reform, but it is not easy. It is a process, a bureaucracy that won’t take effect overnight. We must come together, we all must fight for this,” he said. “Our community now has the voice and the political strength because we have worked so hard to achieve that. But we must also have the political will.”