Immigration reform: ‘Keep working to change hearts’
By Lisa M. Dahm
Caring for the immigrant, its specific challenges and opportunities was the topic of the 12th annual Public Policy Breakfast with Cardinal Roger Mahony, held Sept. 13 at St. Vincent School, Los Angeles.
About 100 people attended the breakfast, sponsored by the archdiocesan Justice and Peace Commission, including Catholic high school students, clergy, religious, parish administrators and community organization leaders.
“It was extremely easy,” to choose immigration reform as the subject of this year’s event, said moderator Angelica Salas. “Immigration reform is one of the most important and critical issues of our day.”
The day featured an expert guest panel on immigration that included Ali Modarres, associate director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles; Ron Wilkins, African Studies professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills; Eunsook Lee, executive director of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium; and Abel Valenzuela, Jr., director of the Center for Study of Urban Policy at UCLA.
“You know where the Catholic Church stands on the idea of immigration,” Cardinal Mahony said during his five-minute talk. “We are staunchly in favor of immigrant groups; we have been since the 1700s.”
Cardinal Mahony said that Catholics have a moral and ethical obligation to “put a human face to these people who are in our midst” and to “keep working to change hearts.”
“I think that our responsibility as people of faith is to make sure we are well grounded as to why we are concerned about immigrants,” he said. “We are concerned primarily because they are human beings. They are our brothers and sisters and they are here in our midst.”
Valenzuela, who has dedicated about 10 years of his life researching day laborers, concurred. “I don’t think I have to tell you that immigrants are increasingly becoming the face of Los Angeles,” he said. “Los Angeles is the capital of day labor in the United States.”
Last January the Center for Study of Urban Policy released the findings of a national study on day laborers. Valenzuela said that though the day labor rate is about $10 an hour, most workers only work about two days a week. They are often not paid in full, are abandoned at the job site, or not paid at all. Many are denied water and breaks and often work overtime without extra pay. They also have no health insurance and are often injured.
Recently, said Valenzuela, cities have been creating worker centers to help workers receive fair wages through a democratic system. As of now, there are 63 workers centers across the United States, 26 in California alone. He said that challenges to the program include protesters at worker centers, a search for funding, and battling an anti-immigrant environment.
In his presentation, Modarres said that both immigrants and the United States look different than 100 years ago. As of 2005, there are more than 35 million foreign-born people in the United States, 11 percent of the population.
For California, the challenge has become particularly important, especially in Los Angeles County where the foreign-born population was 36 percent, and 40 percent for the city of Los Angeles, said Modarres.
His numbers do not include undocumented immigrants, he said, explaining that he purposely does not study them because when he does, he finds that conversation quickly focuses solely on the undocumented population rather than addressing the needs of the documented.
“If we take care of the 35 million people who are documented and we do really well, then I am willing to talk about the undocumented.”
He said that the biggest surprise in his findings is that women immigrants outnumbered men every year over the last few years.
“Which means we really haven’t feminized immigration,” he said. “And it is a global phenomenon, it is not just us.”
He said that female immigrants tend to be victimized and that the country should work to provide “local level empowerment” and learn how to accommodate new immigrants.
Wilkins, during his address, discussed African American relations to the immigrant population. He said that despite a recent survey that showed the African American population to be more accepting of immigrants than other groups in society, African Americans are “very apprehensive about the increase of the immigrant population, particularly here in Los Angeles.”
Wilkins said that to overcome barriers between the African American community and immigrant groups he does extensive work with teachers, parents and the public. “There is an African proverb that goes, ‘What a child says, he has heard at home,'” Wilkins said.
In her presentation, Lee said that the city of Los Angeles must create public education “that enables the city to welcome immigrants for their contributions and how they invigorate our economy.
“The demographic challenges that are felt currently by Los Angeles means we also have an unprecedented opportunity to develop measures that integrate immigrants into local communities, broad institutions and cultures.”
Regarding the presentation, Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary Sister Maureen Murray said she has “always been on the side of the immigrant, but I did not know some of the statistics that they gave us today. That’s what needs to be known by the general population.”
State Sen. Gil Cedillo said the Public Policy Breakfast gives him “inspiration” from an expert panel. He said that he found the information both “nurturing and nourishing.”
“It relates much to my work,” he said. “I represent this district and it is probably one of the largest immigrant districts in the country and so it is very relevant and it is what we should be doing.”
“It was excellent,” said Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Marilyn Rudy of the Public Policy breakfast, her first. “The whole idea of looking at the larger picture is so important. It is an ethical, moral stance that we do not get and we must present it. Our country cannot exist without the immigrant. We saw that so clearly today.”