May 1: the giant rises

We are marching once again on May 1st, making important progress in our efforts to recover the right to a drivers’ license, education rights for immigrant youth, an end to raids and broad legalization reform. But we need the same level of commitment demonstrated across the nation in 2006 to concretize our progress.

It ‘s been a long road, but we’ve continued to fight in a variety of creative ways: marches, voting, communicating with elected officials, and strengthening our national and state coalitions. 2009 is the best opportunity to harvest the fruit of our efforts these last years, with the politicians that were elected in 2008.

At the state level, the Governor has included in the budget a provision that would grant in-state tuition rates to undocumented students that graduate from Wisconsin high schools. Voces de la Frontera, with other organizations in the Coalition for Safe Roads, has obtained a majority vote on the Joint Finance Committee to include an amendment that would grant driver’s licenses to persons without a Social Security number.

Our goal is to have these provisions passed by July of 2009. This progress didn’t happen in a vacuum, the support for these provisions expressed in thousands of postcards that were delivered to the Governor, the 700 people that mobilized to the State Capitol to lobby and testify, and the strength in numbers demonstrated at the public hearings on the State budget; fundamentally, helped move this agenda. The current State budget also includes many reforms that benefit working class families.

At the federal level, President Obama has stated publicly that immigration reform with a path to citizenship is still a priority in 2009. And the DREAM ACT, which provides a legalization process for college bound immigrant youth, was just introduced again in Congress. The new Director of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has indicated that they will return to previous immigration enforcement priorities of focusing on violent criminals, and DHS is conducting an investigation of abuses in detention center to ensure greater accountability. Lastly, the Department of Justice is conducting an investigation of Sheriff Arapio in Arizona for abuses of power and civil rights violations.

Throughout the nation, May 1st is a Day of Action, to give a forceful push and elevate our cause nationally. With the help of all of you we have achieved the rejection of the faulty work authorization program E-Verify in the stimulus package; we recovered the rights of legal immigrants in accessing public health care, by repealing a federal rule that imposed a 5 year waiting period for children and pregnant women who were legal permanent residents.

These gains were achieved through a combination of years of struggle on our part, in the marches, communications, and the Get Out the Vote effort in the Latino community. We are not alone in this struggle, the May 1st demands include a broader platform of labor rights. We have allies fighting with us: dairy farmers, unions, community based organizations, religious organizations, and small business owners.

As May 1st arises, we should remember the words of a worker, “I am marching because I do not think about myself. I think about my two daughters and I do not want them to inherit a life of slavery. I am fighting for them, for a better future.” It is better to lose a day of work, to take a risk, than to live chained to poverty, discrimination, and persecution. Our strength is our solidarity, brothers and sisters, this May 1st: “yes, we can!”

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