Thursday, May 3, 2007
At an immigrant rights rally in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, the diverse grassroots movement that surfaced last year in a spate of street demonstrations reunited with clear legislative goals. Several hundred protesters gathered at Taft Park in front of the U.S. Capitol Building at the rally, which was organized by a group of Asian Pacific American advocacy organizations. Immigrants mobilized May 1 in cities across the country in celebration of “May Day,” an international worker’s rights holiday that originated in nineteenth century America.
Approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants are living in the United States, 1.5 of whom are Asian Pacific American. At the D.C. event, a group of young Korean Americans performed an agricultural dance featuring drums of every shape and size, gongs, and traditional costumes. Their music punctuated calls of “Families united!” and the mantra that emerged during last year’s protests, “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”).
On the immediate agenda at the Washington rally was pushing Congress to pass the STRIVE and DREAM acts, which together offer a progressive alternative to President Bush’s proposals to create a guest-worker program and do away with visa preferences for foreigners with family members already living in the United States. STRIVE, co-sponsored by Reps. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ.), recognizes that immigrants–even undocumented immigrants–play a crucial role in the American labor market. But instead of relegating foreign laborers to second-class “guest worker” status with no hope of ever achieving citizenship and the rights that come along with it, STRIVE allows approximately 400,000 workers to enter the United States annually on a renewable 3-year work visa. After living in the U.S. for five years and paying a $500 fee, workers and their families become eligible for legal permanent residence. And unlike the White House proposal, STRIVE maintains the United States’ commitment to uniting immigrant families. Currently, some legal immigrants face waits of up to two decades to bring relatives to the United States, due to the huge backlog of applications. Lastly, STRIVE compromises with immigration moderates by strengthening border security and shifting penalties for hiring undocumented immigrants from workers to employers.
One proposal especially important for students is the DREAM act. Each year, 65,000 teenagers graduate from American high schools without legal residency or citizenship status because they were brought to this country by their parents as undocumented immigrants. DREAM allows these students to benefit from private and public scholarships, federal loans, and in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.