08/02/2013

Keep the heat on for immigration reform

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Like many Americans, members of Congress are looking forward to a break in August, the time Congress takes its summer recess. The six-week hiatus gives lawmakers a chance to go home to their districts and hear from their neighbors and constituents.

Unlike most of working America, however, the House of Representatives hasn’t earned the right to a vacation, having failed to do more than obstruct progress on many essential pieces of legislation, most especially, comprehensive immigration reform.

In June, the Senate acted—passing a bipartisan bill that lays out a path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans, including young DREAMers and their families. Now it’s time for House members to listen to their constituents and to the will of the country. Americans are demanding: Give us a vote on citizenship!

Poll after poll shows that a majority of the American people—and that includes Republicans—want our broken immigration system to be fixed. They want a balanced approach to reform, and they strongly support the path to citizenship. If a House vote were to be held right now, a bipartisan majority would say yes to comprehensive reform. But, as we’ve seen in this congressional session, a minority is able to stop the momentum.

In the next four weeks, immigration reform advocates—labor, immigration-rights organizations, faith-based groups, the business community—are planning a major strategic blitz to ensure that democracy holds sway at this historic moment. The push will include rallies, community forums, town halls, legislative visits and phone calls, as well as advertising campaigns focused on targeted congressional districts across the country.

The purpose is to build grass-roots support and visibility in a critical mass of House districts in order to pressure House members to take a vote when they return to Washington, D.C., in September. This is advocacy at which our members excel, for a cause they believe in.

AFT members know what is at stake. They have been leaders in their communities pushing for reform to help their students, neighbors and colleagues laboring under unfairly administered visas. Just last month at the AFT TEACH Conference, 3,000 educators heard from DREAMer Marco Antonio Quiroga, a recent college graduate who is putting his medical school plans on hold to work on immigration rights. He told TEACH attendees the story of his family’s arrival in the United States when he was 2, and their struggle to deal with the shame and fear of the dreaded word “undocumented.”

Conference participants gave Quiroga a standing ovation when he asked for their help and activism, saying: “Be the one who opens the door of opportunity to the many.”

The AFT is working with the Alliance for Citizenship and the AFL-CIO to coordinate events in 57 House districts in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota and New Jersey. The message is that fixing our broken immigration system is a just and moral imperative. It will boost the national and state economies. It will send a positive message to rapidly growing and powerful voting constituencies.

Find out what you can do. Visit the AFT American Dream page to see when a town hall is taking place in your area.

Now is the time for AFT members to pick up their phones, walk into the offices of their U.S. representatives, attend town halls and speak up. This is the best chance we’ve had in a generation to pass commonsense immigration reform. [Barbara McKenna]