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Yes, Rep. Sherman, We DO Want to Get Into This: Rep. Berman IS the Author of the DREAM Act

The contentious race between 14-term Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA) and 8-term Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) in California’s 30th congressional district took a bizarre turn yesterday, as Rep. Sherman physically confronted Rep. Berman and questioned his leadership role in drafting the DREAM Act.  As video documents, Rep. Sherman put his arm around Rep. Berman, and said: “Do you want to get into this?” in an aggressive manner.

Well, with respect to Rep. Sherman’s claims on leadership around immigration issues and the DREAM Act, leaders from California and national immigration organizations responded today with a resounding “yes, we do want to get into this.”  On a conference call with reporters, California leaders, DREAMers, and national immigration advocates talked about Rep. Berman’s long history of championing immigrant rights behind the scenes and his tireless advocacy on behalf of the DREAM Act, AgJOBs, and numerous other immigration reforms in Congress.

While Rep. Sherman has a generally pro-immigration voting record, his attempts to diminish Rep. Berman’s leadership on the issue or to portray himself as an equal to Rep. Berman on immigration just don’t wash.  No less an authority than Rep. Luis Gutierrez issued a statement today, stating:

It is not a matter of debate that Rep. Howard Berman is the author of the DREAM Act. . . .  When I am in Los Angeles next week campaigning for Howard Berman’s reelection, I will tell everyone that I support Howard Berman because of his authorship of the DREAM Act and the crucial, leadership role Howard Berman has played in every major piece of immigration legislation under consideration in the House.  Howard is our champion.

On the press call today Angelica Salas, Board Chair of CHIRLA Action Fund based in Los Angeles said:

Representative Sherman has not voted the wrong way, but he rarely engages directly with the Latino community in order to speak up on their issues.  Rep. Berman, however, has been a leader in speaking to the needs of the youth in the San Fernando Valley, and in so doing giving a voice to immigrant youth throughout the nation. For decades, he has met with them and heard their stories, heard their frustration at being unable to achieve their dreams, despite their skills, capacities and passions, and he has taken action on behalf of them and their parents, starting with the original Student Adjustment Act. When President Obama granted deferred action to DREAMers this summer, it was the culmination of the work Rep. Berman has been doing throughout his career.  He is a person who doesn’t just say he’s going to do the right thing, but who actually takes action, and has made sure that every part of his capacity and leadership is moved to help the Latino and immigrant community of the San Fernando Valley.

Rep. Berman wrote the original DREAM Act in 2001 after meeting an undocumented honors student who could not go to college because she didn’t qualify for financial aid.  The Congressman was so moved by her situation that he wrote a bill to fix it, along with Senator Durbin (D-IL).  Berman reached out to Republican Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah, and the two introduced their bipartisan bill in the House in May 2001.  The Senate version was introduced in August 2001.

Javiera Infante, a DREAM leader from the San Fernando Valley, said:

For as long as I have been involved with the DREAM Act, the only name familiar to me has been Howard Berman’s name, when it comes to the fight for student rights in the Valley.  It’s appalling to think that Rep. Sherman called Congressman Berman to a physical fight.  On behalf of youth in the Valley, I want to say that we continue to support Congressman Berman and the work he’s done in the immigration fight.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

Howard Berman is one of the greatest champions of immigrants and immigration reform the U.S. Congress has ever seen.  He enjoys the support of those who have worked with him for over 30 years on behalf of immigrants and immigrant families.  While Berman often let others’ names come first on the bill-for example, his Republican allies-he was the true author and driver behind this legislation.  It was all part of his strategy to pass the bill.  So while Berman’s essential role may be less known to the media, it’s well-known to those who were in the trenches with him.”

Rep. Berman’s advocacy on behalf of immigrants is not limited to the DREAM Act.  One of his most crucial roles was in brokering the historic AgJOBS deal with Senator Ted Kennedy, the United Farm Workers, and agriculture industry leaders.  The bill would legalize undocumented farm workers in exchange for certain visa reforms sought by growers.  In an industry known for abuse and exploitation, the fact that Berman and Kennedy brought these interests together around a common platform is remarkable.  Berman introduced multiple AgJOBS bills (including in 20032005, and 2007) and successfully courted numerous Republican cosponsors in a tireless effort to pass it.  Unfortunately, the bill has not yet gotten enough backing from Republicans, but Berman’s work on this bill has been nothing short of heroic.

In fact, Berman has been a champion of farm workers since before his days in Congress.  As an Assemblyman in California, Berman was the chief sponsor and negotiator of the state’s historic Agricultural Labor Relations Act– the first legislation in the nation to provide United Farm Workers (UFW) the right to organize on behalf of migrant farm workers.

Efrain Trujillo, an organizer with the United Farm Workers, explained:

All of us involved in the Farm Worker Movement want to tell Brad Sherman that we were shocked by his physical display of violence and want to remind him of Cesar Chavez’s lifelong commitment to nonviolent civil discourse.  Howard Berman is important to the United Farm Workers because since the beginning he has been fighting for workers’ rights and immigrant rights.  As an Assemblymember, Howard Berman worked directly with César Chávez and Dolores Huerta to pass the critical legislation that gave farm workers collective bargaining rights in California.  In the mid-eighties as a congressman, he partnered with the United Farm Workers to pass legislation that granted a path to citizenship to undocumented farm workers and others.  More recently, Howard co-authored and introduced the bipartisan AgJOBS bill.

Cesar VargasManaging Partner of DRM Action Coalition, concluded:

As DREAMers we’re not fighting for a party or a candidate, we’re fighting for true supporters. It’s not enough to cast a vote, it’s not enough to voice your support. Howard Berman has set the standard of what it means to lead on the DREAM Act. I was in the House chamber the day the DREAM Act was voted on and I remember him defending the DREAM Act when Rep. Lamar Smith was calling us criminals.  That was really incredible.  Howard Berman’s leadership has involved action and determination to support immigrant youth around the country.

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THREE DAYS LEFT For California’s Gov. Jerry Brown to Sign TRUST Act

California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, only has until THIS weekend to sign the bill, and we’re asking everyone to call (916) 445-2841 to ask Gov. Brown to sign the bill TODAY.

Lawrence Downes in the New York Times today explains the significance of the TRUST Act:

The bill requires state and local authorities to be more prudent when the federal government wants to use their jails as immigration holding cells.

Presently, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement runs inmates’ fingerprints through its databases and finds someone it believes is deportable, it often asks local authorities to hold that person to be picked up for deportation. Most police departments try to comply, though doing so is voluntary.

Under California’s bill, local police would agree to hold inmates for ICE only if they have been convicted or charged with a serious or violent felony. If the inmates are noncriminals or minor offenders who would otherwise be let go, they would not be turned over to ICE.

As the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, said: “We want police to distinguish between the woman selling tamales and the gang member who has a record.”

While current US immigration policies are supposed to focus on deporting criminal immigrants while de-prioritizing the removal of hardworking immigrant mothers and fathers, the reality is that 400,000 people are deported every year, many of whom have no criminal records whatsoever.

Extremist, anti-immigrant states like Arizona and Alabama want to exacerbate this problem, and have passed laws pushing for the mass deportation of immigrants.  California wants to take a different tack, and head in the opposite direction: it wants to direct limited resources toward removing criminals, while staying away from the persecution of neighbors, friends, and community members.

As Lawrence Downes finishes, “Mr. Brown should listen to the voices of the immigrants, civil-rights advocates, police chiefs and sheriffs, local elected officials, members of Congress, Catholic bishops and other religious leaders who have implored him to lead California out of that wilderness. He should sign the Trust Act.”

You can help turn this bill into law.  Call Gov. Brown at (916) 445-2841 and ask him to sign the TRUST Act today.

Gov. Brown: Side With Fellow Governors, Not Ice Director And Anti-Immigrant Hate Groups

California Governor Jerry Brown has until the end of the month to decide if he’s going to sign the TRUST Act into law, and his decision to sign the bill or veto it will tell us a lot about whose side he is on. California’s bill would be the largest effort yet to restore the trust between police and immigrant communities that has been damaged by the federal “Secure Communities” program in recent years.  But Brown is under tremendous pressure from ICE Director John Morton  to support this failed program and help the government deport thousands of immigrants who’ve committed no crimes–the same immigrants President Obama has vowed to legalize.

In a little-publicized letter released earlier this month, ICE Director John Morton not only praised the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a designated hate group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but also revealed his not-so-subtle pressure tactics against state and local governments who feel that the federal Secure Communities program has actually made their communities less safe.

As Frank Sharry, Executive Director here at America’s Voice said:

Why is an appointed official in the Obama Administration consorting with a recognized hate group? John Morton’s love letter to FAIR is deeply disturbing, not only because he is treating them like a partner but also because of the tactics it reveals.  ICE is strong-arming state and local governments who have concerns about this program, instead of working with them to address their needs.

A quick refresher: the TRUST Act, which recently passed both houses of the California legislature, seeks to restore the public trust police need to protect communities by addressing some of the problems with the federal Secure Communities program. While this program was supposed to focus resources on deporting serious criminals, it has instead turned routine police work into an immigration status check and led to record deportations of immigrants, including hundreds of thousands who are not criminals.  Under “Secure Communities,” undocumented persons are often detained by police for very minor violations, such as driving without a license, and end up in federal hands on the path to deportation. In California alone, more than 75,000 immigrants have been deported since Secure Communities began there in 2009, and more than half of those immigrants were either convicted of no crime or convicted only of minor offenses. The TRUST Act is designed to focus that program on its stated goals, and ensure that immigrants who haven’t committed a crime are not afraid of contact with the police.

So, who will Gov. Brown side with? In addition to FAIR on the extremist side, you’ll find Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. As we’ve noted, in practice there is little difference between Secure Communities and Arizona’s SB 1070.  That notorious law, which basically sanctions racial-profiling, attacks immigrants by making local cops turn them over to the federal government for deportation-destroying the trust between immigrants and local police. If Brown vetoes the TRUST Act, he’ll be in sync not only with FAIR, but also with Arizona’s Governor Brewer as well.

Or, Brown could show leadership and make his state the “anti-Arizona”. He could stand with his fellow Governors Andrew Cuomo (NY), Deval Patrick (MA) and Pat Quinn (IL) who sought to end relationships with Morton’s ICE program because of the serious problems wreaked upon the immigrant community. Those Governors recognized that the federal program was undermining local law enforcement and stood up to ICE. Even President Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, now the Mayor of Chicago, is supporting a city ordinance, similar to the TRUST Act, to protect his city’s immigrant population from Secure Communities.  In his own state, Brown would not only be aligned with fellow governors in states with substantial immigrant populations, but also with more than 100 immigrant rights groups, police chiefs, and mayors, who are seeking to restore the public trust police need for community safety by supporting the TRUST Act.

Said Sharry:

Governor Brown has a choice to make — and that choice will impact immigrant communities throughout California. If he vetoes the TRUST Act, Brown will find himself in lockstep with Jan Brewer, John Morton, and FAIR. That’s out of character for Brown — and for California.  By signing TRUST, Brown will ally himself with immigrants and follow the lead of Governors Cuomo, Quinn and Patrick.  He’ll also keep California on the right path.

Gov. Jerry Brown Should Sign the TRUST Act and Be “Anti-Arizona” on Immigration

Cross-Posted at California Progress Report and America’s Voice Education Fund.

By Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice Education Fund:

Years ago, California tried to take the punitive and xenophobic approach to immigration with Prop 187 — a 1994 ballot initiative whose stated goal was to keep undocumented immigrants from receiving public benefits, but would have essentially turned California into a police state for immigrants. Fortunately, Proposition 187 was invalidated by the courts.  But instead of learning from California, states like Arizona, Alabama, and a handful of others are repeating the same mistakes and passing similar laws designed to turn anyone who looks or sounds “like an immigrant” into a suspect and make them feel unwelcome in their own homes.

But last week, the California State Senate showed just how far the state has come-by passing Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) TRUST Act, the antithesis of Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law.

Arizona’s law attacks immigrants by making local cops turn them over to the federal government for deportation-destroying the trust between immigrants and local police. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is also pushing for local-federal cooperation on immigration through its so-called “Secure Communities” program, which turns routine police work into an immigration status check, and has led to record deportations of immigrants who have never committed a crime.  Under “Secure Communities,” undocumented persons are often detained for very minor violations, such as driving without a license, and end up on the path to deportation.  In California alone, more than 75,000 immigrants have been deported since Secure Communities began there in 2009, and more than half of those immigrants were either convicted of no crime or convicted only of minor offenses.

The TRUST Act, which has the support of over 100 immigrant rights groups, police chiefs, and mayors, seeks to restore the public trust police need for community safety. The TRUST Act would address some of the problems with Secure Communities by telling police to only send immigrants who have serious convictions to ICE for deportation.  It would allow hardworking immigrant mothers and fathers to go to work and live their lives with less fear of harassment and deportation, and would mend the rift between immigrant communities and the police that is vital to the success of community policing.  This makes the TRUST Act essentially the opposite of Arizona’s SB 1070: while SB 1070 treats every immigrant as a priority for deportation, the TRUST Act lifts up legitimate threats and zeroes in on true public-safety priorities.

The bill has moved on from the California Senate to the Assembly, which is highly likely to pass it.  Next, it will move to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, and Latino and community leaders are expecting the Governor to sign it and show the rest of the country what smart and fair immigration policy looks like.

The TRUST Act is simply a common-sense policy-in a world of limited resources and police power, law enforcement should target dangerous criminals for deportation, not hardworking mothers and college students.  And when criminals at large threaten all of us, those with information must be encouraged to come forward-not scared away from doing so. Opponents of the bill are simply relying on their tired talking point that anything short of deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants is “amnesty.” They’ve got nothing else to offer.

We hope that Governor Brown is ready to lead California full-circle, rejecting its Proposition 187 past and sending a message to states like Arizona and Alabama that mass deportation is not the answer.  Immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is.

From Prop 187 to the TRUST Act — California Comes a Long Way, Models Smart Immigration Enforcement

Yesterday, California took a key step in positioning itself as the “anti-Arizona” on immigration enforcement, with the state Senate passing a bill that would restore common sense to states’ approach on immigration. Ironically, California was the first state to embrace an extremist approach to immigration with the passage of Proposition 187 in 1994. Fortunately, the state has now come full circle and is breaking new ground by passing what we see as the “anti”- Prop 187 and “anti”-SB 1070: the TRUST Act.

The TRUST Act passed the California Senate with a 21-13 vote, moving the bill to the State Assembly, where it is also expected to pass. As the Los Angeles Times explains, the TRUST Act would:

prohibit police and sheriff’s officials from detaining arrestees for possible deportation unless the suspects have previous convictions for a serious or violent felony. The measure is aimed at blunting federal immigration enforcement, in particular the Secure Communities program, under which fingerprints of arrestees are shared with immigration officials who issue hold orders.

The federal “Secure Communities” program was created to target serious criminal offenders, but has been widely criticized by elected officials, law enforcement and others for sweeping up tens of thousands of immigrants without criminal records and destroying immigrants’ relationship with the police. That is why the California legislature-and, hopefully, soon the Governor-is taking concrete steps to address this with the TRUST Act.

The California approach stands in stark contrast to the SB 1070 law passed by neighboring Arizona, a law that continues to be mired in controversy and legal challenges. While the TRUST Act’s goal is to bring balance to immigration enforcement, SB 1070’s goal is to make every immigrant a law enforcement “priority.” Basically, it’s the difference between support for community policing and the creation of a police state.

Arizona is already ground zero for profiling and harassment of people “perceived to be immigrants,” and the federal government is certainly doing its part. The Border Patrol’s recent treatment of former Arizona Governor Raul Castro-who was stopped and held in 100 degree heat while traveling to celebrate his 96th birthday-is just the most recent example of how “checkpoint” culture has invaded the southwest and turned even the most patriotic of Americans into suspects. As Alessandra Soler, Executive Director of ACLU of Arizona stated:

This happens all the time in terms of these types of indiscriminate stops of individuals not suspected of any wrongdoing…I think most people would agree that subjecting a 96-year-old man to secondary screening does little to secure our borders and a man who had just informed them that he had undergone this medical procedure.

In fact, this wasn’t even the first time Governor Castro was subjected to harassment by the Border Patrol, and it’s a clear indication that Arizona remains the Wild West, while California is striking out on a decidedly different path.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice Education Fund:

The rapid expansion of federal immigration enforcement capacity and authority has helped foster a climate of impunity and excess, as the detention of former Gov. Castro demonstrates. That’s why California’s TRUST Act is such a welcome and sensible step forward. By taking smart steps to restore immigration enforcement priorities, California’s TRUST Act is the antidote to Arizona immigration policy excesses. We hope and expect Governor Brown to sign the TRUST Act into law, sending a strong signal that California has learned from, and moved beyond, its Proposition 187 past.

Elton Gallegly’s Anti-Immigration Strategy: Ruin California’s Economy

Rep. Elton Gallegly is the Chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration. He’s also one of the most egregiously anti-immigrant leaders in Congress, pushing a strategy to force a mass deportation, cleverly couched as “attrition through enforcement.”

Unfortunately, Gallegly’s zeal to get tough on immigrants would have profound consequences for California and the rest of the United States.

California’s agriculture and food production are the envy of the world.  The state’s farmers not only help feed the world, but keep prices low and jobs here in the United States.  Yet this great agricultural machine is under assault by one of California’s own members of Congress: Elton Gallegly.  Instead of embracing the business-labor compromise bill known as AgJOBS that would legalize farm workers and make changes to the H-2A guest worker program, Gallegly is trying to divide the business community from labor leaders and destabilize the agriculture industry in the process. 

Gallegly has already held hearings that tried to pit Latinos against African Americans. (His hometown paper, the Ventura County Star, reported on March 1, 2011 “Immigration hearing turns into racial battle”) and designed to create tension between native-born citizens and naturalized citizens, which Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA-31) blasted as “scapegoating on steroids.” 

Gallegly’s next hearing is titled, “The H-2A Visa Program – Meeting the Growing Needs of American Agriculture?”  His approach is to insist that the solution to our farm labor crisis is an employer-friendly guest worker program, instead of the thoughtful, realistic, bipartisan approach embodied by AgJOBS that includes stronger labor rights for workers, changes to the visa program desired by employers, and a way for undocumented farm workers to earn legal status if they have worked in the agriculture industry.

Gallegly knows that California’s agriculture industry is dependent on a foreign-born and mostly unauthorized workforce.  Yet, due to our broken immigration system, the foreign-born workers who comprise the overwhelming majority of our agricultural workers have few avenues to become legalized and, without them, farmers have few avenues to keep their farms operating at full capacity.  It’s already bad enough. But, Gallegly is intent upon making a bad situation worse.  Importing new workers through a revised H-2A program, and deporting the seasoned workers who have been here for years, is not the answer.  A reasonable approach, like the AgJOBS legislation, is.

But the impact of Gallegly’s policy prescriptions will not just hurt agriculture.

Not too far north of Gallegly’s district lies another of California’s economic crown jewels: Silicon Valley.  According to Tech Crunch, the U.S. immigration policies are having a devastating impact on entrepreneurship:

NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw visited Silicon Valley last month to meet immigrant entrepreneurs. At Microsoft’s Mountain View campus, he met with a dozen of them. More than half said that they might be forced to return to their home countries. That’s because they have the same visa issues that Kunal Bahl had. Unable to get a visa that would allow him to start a company after he graduated from Wharton in 2007, Kunal returned home to India. In February 2010, he started SnapDeal—India’s Groupon. Instead of creating hundreds of jobs in the U.S., Kunal ended up creating them in New Delhi.

At a time when our economy is stagnating, some American political leaders are working to keep the world’s best and brightest out. They mistakenly believe that skilled immigrants take American jobs away. The opposite is true: skilled immigrants start the majority of Silicon Valley startups; they create jobs.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurship is booming in countries that compete with us. And more than half a million doctors, scientists, researchers, and engineers in the U.S. are stuck in “immigration limbo”. They are on temporary work visas and are waiting for permanent-resident visas, which are in extremely short supply. These workers can’t start companies, justify buying houses, or grow deep roots in their communities. Once they get in line for a visa, they can’t even accept a promotion or change jobs. They could be required to leave the U.S. immediately—without notice—if their employer lays them off.  Rather than live in constant fear and stagnate in their careers, many are returning home.

Constant fear is what Gallegly is instilling in immigrants across the economic spectrum.

California’s economy, from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley and much of the rest of the state, relies on the labor of immigrants. And, it’s no secret that California’s economy is already in a precarious state.  A report from the Immigration Policy Center documented the positive economic effect immigrants have on the state:

A 2008 study by the California Immigrant Policy Center concludes that immigrants in California pay roughly $30 billion in federal taxes, $5.2 billion in state income taxes, and $4.6 billion in sales taxes each year. In California, “the average immigrant-headed household contributes a net $2,679 annually to Social Security, which is $539 more than the average US-born household. Additionally, “immigrants are among California’s most productive entrepreneurs and have created jobs for tens of thousands of Californians. By 2000, immigrant owners of Silicon Valley companies had created 72,829 jobs and generated more than $19.5 billion in sales.”

A report from the Congressional Budget Office, The Role of Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market: An Update, noted the major role of immigrants in California:

The foreign-born labor force is disproportionately located in certain states, and in those states, its members make up a substantial share of the total labor force. In 2009, 6 million of the 24 million foreign-born members of the labor force resided in California alone, and another 9 million lived in just five additional states—New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois. A third of the labor force in California was foreign born, as was over a fifth of the labor force in the other five states. By comparison, in the remaining 44 states, the foreign born made up less than 10 percent of the labor force.

Instead of creating jobs, Gallegly is scaring workers with the threat of deportation. Instead of bolstering his state’s economy, Gallegly’s obsession with deporting immigrants or hiring replacement workers through an employer-friendly guest worker program could seriously damage it.

Cross-Posted at America's Voice.