The Immigrant and Indigenous Women’s Coalition of Sonoma County and the ALMAS/Graton Day Labor Center commemorated César Chávez Day on March 31 by launching a local campaign to push Congress and President Joe Biden to pass a just path to citizenship legislation.
The virtual campaign launch and rally featured several testimonies and songs highlighting the struggle of undocumented immigrants and the need for reform.
Speakers included ALMAS and Immigrant Indigenous Women of Sonoma County members, most of whom are undocumented individuals who live and work across the county.
ALMAS/Graton Day Labor Center Program Director Renee Saucedo kicked off the event by discussing their campaign launch and what they’ll be lobbying for.
“Welcome to our launch of our local campaign to pass just path to citizenship legislation and to denounce elements of the current pending legislative proposals. Our organizations voice today what undocumented migrants living in the U.S. have always demanded. One, a reasonable residency application process for the 11 million undocumented migrants already here and for those who arrive in the future. Two, an end to the criminalization of our community. Stop the deportations, shut down the immigrant jails and detention centers and demilitarize the U.S.-Mexico border. Three, an end to guest worker programs, which are inherently exploitative to migrant workers and four, an end to work authorization verification. Everyone has a moral right to work,” Saucedo said.
“We honor César Chávez today by continuing our years of struggle for a just immigration reform.”
Saucedo said in the next few months ALMAS and the Graton Day Labor Center will work with congressional leaders and collect signatures for a petition to call for just immigration reform.
“In the next months our coalition will meet with our congressional leaders, collect signatures on our petition — which people can find electronically on our Facebook page — and organize so that these policies are implemented,” she said.
She said they’ll also continue to oppose any legislation that includes worker e-verify systems.
“We will continue to oppose any legislation like the pending U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, because these include a nationwide e-verify system and an easier way for growers and other large employers to hire temporary workers who have historically been victims of exploitative work conditions since their immigration status is directly linked to their employment,” Saucedo said. “Let us be clear, as women today we cannot morally support the current immigration proposals even if they would offer some fair residency, because many others will suffer in a system which ensures that workers remain undocumented, temporary, exploitable and criminalized. The price they're asking us to pay for some legalization is just too high.”
The virtual Zoom event then featured comments from various ALMAS members who urged Congress to act on immigration reform.
“I am a member of ALMAS, of the Graton Day Labor Center. I am from a town called San Miguel Chicahua in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. I came to this country to help my family, including my son, who I haven’t seen in many years. For many years I’ve worked in agriculture as a farm worker, as a house cleaner and also I do gardening. In recent years I cleaned many homes which were impacted by the fires here in Sonoma County,” said Teresa Gomez, a member of ALMAS and Immigrant Indigenous Women of Sonoma County. “As the undocumented community, we need the support of the U.S. government, which has for the most part turned its head so as not to see us, but thanks to us, this country has grown and prospered. We need a favorable immigration reform law that will benefit all of us.”
For instance, people don't want guest worker programs.
Last week the House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and according to a press release from ALMAS and The Graton Day Labor Center, it would provide a complex pathway to citizenship for slightly over 1 million undocumented farmworkers and their families.
However, it also contains a mandatory, nationwide e-verify system for all agricultural employment, which would make work illegal for hundreds of thousands of undocumented farmworkers, according to the press release.
“Moreover, it makes it easier for growers to hire temporary workers, who have historically been victims of exploitative work conditions since their immigration status is directly linked to their employment,” the press release states.
“These workers are practically enslaved, I see them. They cannot work comfortably, they’re hardly allowed to stop working and no breaks. I know all of this because I see it.” Gomez said.
She said the new immigration reform bills should not include these guest worker programs.
“We must be seen and regarded, because we’re not one, or two, or three, we are millions. Thank you for listening to my testimony. I hope government officials listen to us and take us into account,” she said.
Anayeli Guzman, another ALMAS member, was the next speaker. Guzman discussed how she came to the U.S. and why it’s so important to have a good immigration reform bill.
“I’ve lived in Sonoma County for four years with my family. I came to this country so that my daughter could grow up with her father. I made a huge sacrifice by leaving my son and my mom and the rest of my family in Mexico,” Guzman said. “This is why I want my message to reach government officials, I am one of millions of undocumented people who find ourselves living here. We are farm workers, restaurant workers, gardeners and we perform many other jobs. We have contributed much economically to this country and the majority of us have dedicated our entire lives to work out of necessity in order to give our families better lives. This is why we need immigration reform, so that we can see our families again.
She said it would be a huge accomplishment for the undocumented community received their papers.
“Living and working in the country we are part of it and we deserve to be treated as such,” she said.
Isabel Lopez, the executive director of the Raizes Collective, a Santa Rosa nonprofit that aims to empower and mobilize the community through arts and culture, also spoke and discussed the plan to collect petition signatures.
Lopez is also a leader with the Immigrant and Indigenous Women of Sonoma County.
“Many of the proposals pending in Congress right now include heightened guest worker programs and work authorization verification which harm migrant workers and makes them even more exploitable,” Lopez said. “As a woman who was undocumented in this country and suffered the trauma of crossing the militarized border with my family with the hope of a better life, I come to demand a fair and dignified way to legalize our community so that they’re able to come out of the shadows and live without fear of being exploited and separated from their families. We urge Congress to listen to our demands and take action. We urge you, who are listening in today, to sign our petition.”
She said they’ll be at the César Chávez Day Health Fair this Saturday, April 3 at 10 a.m. collecting petition signatures.
The fair will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park at 1671 Hendley St., in Santa Rosa. People will also be able to sign up for vaccine appointments and speak with health care professionals.
The final speaker for the campaign launch event was Socorro Diaz, a leader with ALMAS.
“I am an immigrant and indigenous woman and I am speaking on behalf of the millions of undocumented women and indigenous women, women who work outside of the house and inside the house. We work hard every day. Every day we sacrifice in order to feed our families, we do our jobs well. We are here to demand a just immigration reform. We don’t want to continue to have this label of being ‘illegals’ or ‘undocumented.’ We deserve to live without this label. We urge the governor, we urge the president to take action. We have certain human rights as human beings and these rights should be respected,” Diaz said.
She also thanked César Chávez for his legacy.
“We will continue to dream just as you did. We will continue to organize and struggle, just like you did, and we won’t stop until we get there,” Diaz said.
Anette Moreno wrapped up the program with a song performance. The song was dedicated to the families who have died trying to cross the U.S. - Mexico border.