Author: Leah Glowacki
A short walk through Eagle Rock, past taco trucks, Chinese restaurants, and Italian pizzerias elucidates the determining quality of our community. This diverse population manifests itself in greasy one a.m. tacos and the collectible innards of fortune cookies, distinguishing Eagle Rock and the greater Los Angeles area from other American cities.
Cultural diversity extends beyond the gates that enclose the Occidental Community. Los Angeles is one of the most vibrant and eclectic cities in the country. Originally founded in 1781 as “Pueblo Los Angeles” by 44 Spanish Settlers, Los Angeles was not incorporated as an American city until 1850. It remains anchored to this Hispanic heritage and is defined by the influx of diverse immigration that immediately followed the city’s American incorporation.
In 1849, the California Gold Rush began. Throughout the 1850s it made Northern California the destination of European, Australian, and most significantly, Asian immigrants, who remain one of Los Angeles’s most prominent ethnic groups today, comprising close to 12% of the population.
Even larger than the Asian minority is Los Angeles’ Hispanic population. According to Microsoft Encarta, Hispanics comprise 46.5% of the city’s population. The Mexican community in Los Angeles is particularly significant, making up close to 80% of the Hispanic population, according to Microsoft Encarta. Its presence in California began before Los Angeles was a city and even before California was a state. Between 1697 and 1821, the land that is now part of California was settled and colonized by Spanish missionaries, ranchers, and troops. Today, the Hispanic community is sustained and expanded by the steady movement of tremendous numbers of Mexican immigrants out of their native communities, over the Rio Grande, and into the United States.
Forty-three percent of Mexican immigrants have chosen to settle in California, according to the Center for Immigration studies. Though some obtain visas, a larger portion of Mexicans reside in the United States illegally. According to U.S. census estimates, there are approximately 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. About one million Mexican immigrants live and work in California illegally. This large illegal community raises innumerable questions regarding the United States’ economy, culture, security, and its tenuous relationship with its southern neighbor.
Although immigration policy was seldom discussed during the 2008 election campaign, it remains a contested domestic matter. The significance of current dissatisfaction is explained by a chain of changes that link to form a history of relations between the United States and Mexico that are as volatile as the rocky terrain that separates the two countries.
The construction of western railroads in the United States was the earliest motivator of Mexican immigration. American railroad owners, in search of cheap labor, located and transported thousands of Mexicans in search of higher wages to southwestern United States, where they were instrumental in railroad construction. By 1930, according to the U.S. census, 640,000 Mexicans resided in the United States and constituted nearly 75% of the workforce of the six major southwestern railroads. At the time, 30% of Mexican-born U.S. residents lived in California.
Before 1930, the United States Government had not created restrictions on Mexican immigration. In 1930, the United States economy had begun its epic downward spiral and the demand for Mexican labor was sharply reduced. Consequently, the U.S. government carried out deportations of Mexican immigrants without papers. According to a USA TODAY review of documents and interviews with historians and deportees, around 400,000 immigrants nationwide, thousands of whom were residing in California, returned to Mexico.
The next event occurred alongside the initiation of World War I. As thousands of U.S. males joined the army, there was a resurgence in demand for immigrant labor. In 1942, the United States and Mexican governments cooperatively established the Bracero Agreement. This temporary guest worker program legalized circular, unlimited immigration from Mexico. More than four million Mexicans, according to former Mexican foreign minister Jorge G. Castaneda, came to the United States as Braceros. They held seasonal agricultural jobs and returned to their home communities, with money to support their families, at the end of each season.
In 1954, President Eisenhower’s administration initiated project Wetback. This program involved similar tactics as the 1930s deportations. It increased border security and resulted in the deportation of around 130,000 immigrants within a year. Thousands of other Mexicans fled the United States in fear of apprehension. However, the Bracero Program complicated the success of Operation Wetback. After illegal immigrants were deported, they could easily re-enter the United States as Braceros.
The Bracero Program was terminated in 1964. Although this made Mexican immigration illegal, it was still tolerated by American businessmen who remained eager for labor. In the 20 years following the termination of the Bracer Program, according to Castaneda, five million undocumented Mexicans, motivated by factors including higher wages, greater job opportunities and a superior education quality available in the United States, entered the country.
In 1986 President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). This reform provided long-term amnesty for certain Mexicans who had arrived before Jan. 1, 1982 and had remained in the United States since. Again, though immigrants who didn’t qualify for amnesty under IRCA were technically illegal, they were tolerated. IRCA also created sanctions for employers hiring illegal aliens. Though the goal of this provision was to deter incentives for immigration by eliminating job opportunities in the United States, the act did not require employers to verify the authenticity of their employee’s documents. Thus, many employers forged employee’s papers, rendering the sanctions futile.
In 1997, the Clinton administration passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIA). Among many things, the Act expedited the deportation process and increased border security, making it more difficult for Mexicans to enter the United States. The ultimate, unintended consequence of this legislation was an end to the pattern of circularity that had characterized Mexican immigration to the United States since the early 1900s. Instead of discouraging Mexicans from immigrating to the United States, this increased security encouraged them to bring their families and stay here permanently. Seasonal migrants became permanent immigrants.
Though the status of Mexicans in the United States has changed frequently in the past century, their movement remained constant. According to Castaneda, The flow of Mexican immigrants into California and the United States has wavered little since the early 1900s, regardless of changes in United States policy. This unwavering flow, coupled with a shift away from circularity and toward undocumented Mexicans’ permanent residence, is increasing the stock of illegal immigration in the United States, resulting in anti-immigrant sentiment among Americans and a greater demand for reform.
In 2007, the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Reform Act was proposed in Congress. Both the U.S. and Mexico increasingly believed that comprehensive immigration reform, providing legal status and a path to legal citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, was the best solution for the problems associated with immigration across the border. While the Act passed in the Senate, it failed in the House of Representatives.
The most recent change is U.S. immigration policy, considering the failure of comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, was the Secure Fence Act, passed in 2006. It increased security and allowed for 700 miles of fence to be c
onstructed along the U.S. Mexico border. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids have also increased in recent years. The agency was formed under Homeland Security in March 2003 and has, as of 2007, according to the ICE Fiscal Year 2007 Annual Report, grown to 16,500 employees and a $5 billion dollar annual budget.
Large-scale ICE immigration raids occur in factories and in individuals’ homes. When raids occur, illegal immigrants, unaware of the American judicial system or their right to remain silent, are left confused. They are frequently deported and in many cases separated from their families. In 2007, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE arrested 1,300 illegal immigrants with deportation orders in the Los Angeles area over a two-week period.
The Mexican Community in Los Angeles has mobilized to advocate for immigration reform and to oppose recent United States immigration policies, specifically, increased ICE raids. Current Occidental Students and recent alumni are involved in the struggle. Their varied efforts are indicative of the widespread desire for and movement toward change as well as the impassioning effect of an Occidental education.
The New Sanctuary Movement is aimed at providing shelter to illegal immigrants facing final deportation orders who have families in the United States. The movement consists of churches across the United States that publicly harbor illegal immigrants in their facilities. Church protection is effective because ICE officials have been reluctant to raid churches. In addition to shelter, churches also provide illegal immigrants with legal advice for avoiding deportation and obtaining citizenship. The movement is modeled after the sanctuary movement of the 1980s, which was designed to offer protection from immigration authorities to Central American political refugees. Both movements strive to connect real stories and real faces to injustices often only expressed by speech.
The New Sanctuary Movement was founded on the actions of Elvira Arellano, a Mexican citizen who was deported in 2007. In the summer of 2006, facing deportation orders, Arellano had declared sanctuary at the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago. After giving birth to a son in 1999, who, by virtue of the 14th amendment, was a U.S. citizen, Arellano didn’t believe it was fair that the government could force her to decide between leaving her son in the United States and taking him back to Mexico. Arellano was discovered and arrested after she relocated to Los Angeles on August 16, 2007.
Arellano’s actions influenced a meeting between representatives from 18 U.S. cities, 12 religious traditions, and seven denominational and interdenominational organizations to discuss a new sanctuary movement. The group listened to immigrants discuss their fights to prevent separation from their American children and families. It determined that it had a moral obligation to bind families together by protecting them from unjust deportation. The group’s mission, according to its Web site, is to unite in opposing the current series of raids and ensuing deportations, and to agree to call for an end to these practices until the broken immigration system is fixed.
Karen Calderon ’08 blended her passions for film and politics to produce a documentary on the sanctuary movement for her senior comprehensive project. As the daughter of two Guatemalan immigrants, Calderon has always been interested in immigration. Her documentary highlighted the sanctuary process and the theory behind it. It opposes claims that the New Sanctuary Movement is an illegal form of harboring criminals by claiming that since the movement provides public refuge without prohibiting government removal of individuals from churches, its methods are legal.
The documentary also challenges claims that the New Sanctuary Movement encourages illegal behavior. It argues that instead of encouraging disregard for the law, the movement respects law and understands how it develops in a democracy. In her documentary, Calderon explains that the New Sanctuary Movement applies the same process for challenging unjust laws and civil disobedience that other minority groups have effectively employed over the years.
Despite obstacles, including threatening phone calls and demonstrations by minute men and the efforts of activists who have formed a militia to monitor the flow of illegal immigrants across the border, the New Sanctuary Movement is quickly expanding. Although there are only four families in Sanctuary in Los Angeles, many churches that aren’t housing illegal immigrants support the movement in other ways, mainly through monetary donations. “This is not a political issue. It is a moral outrage,” David Farley, pastor at the Echo Park United Methodist Church a member of the Sanctuary Movement, said.
In making her documentary, Calderon was inspired to intern at Clergy and Laity United for Economic justice (CLUE). This organization is composed of over 600 religious leaders throughout Los Angeles County who unite to respond to the inequities of the working poor. As an intern, Calderon has worked on fundraising events and immigration research. In the future, she indicates that she may pursue a career in journalism and immigration work.
Another instance of civil disobedience occurred during the three weeks prior to the Nov. 4 presidential election. A group, that at times reached 100 members, spent portions or all of these weeks at a water-only camp-site at La Placita Olvera in downtown Los Angeles. For 21 days they participated in Fast For Our Future, an event sponsored by RISE Los Angeles, a non-violent action wing of the immigration rights movement. Many participants restricted their diets to water for the entire three weeks.
The goal of the hunger strike, according to the event’s Web site was to “re-ignite the immigration rights movement.” Protestors strove to energize support, raise awareness, and encourage Latinos and immigrants to vote in large numbers during the election. RISE’s goal was for at least one million people to sign a pledge that they would vote for immigration rights, encourage others to follow their lead, and join the hunger strike if possible.
Adalberto Rios (first-year), participated in the hunger strike for 22 days. His interest in the movement began at a hallspread. “Two organizers from the RISE movement, Frank Croquette-Romerp and Kai Newkark, came to one of our hallspreads, informing us of the current atrocities that are still being committed to immigrant people all around the nation. ICE police have been going into both public and private spaces, and detaining and deporting immigrants,” he said. At hallspread, Rios learned about Fast for Our future. He determined that his participation could make a difference. “After the two organizers came, I spoke to them, let them know I am the MEChA/ALAS [Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan/Associated Latin American Students] Co-Chair and wanted to work in conjunction with them,” Rios said. He proceeded to work toward involving his organization’s membership and the Oxy student body in support of the effort.
Though fasting for three weeks seems like a daunting task, Rios’ preparation and motivation made it manageable. “I fasted for 22 days on solely water. I prepared for the fast well enough with time that transition was easy and lasting was even easier. I just thought of this as being a way for me to speak on behalf of those that can’t. If fasting would get the most attention, and I didn’t consider it beyond my capability, there should have been no reason for me not to have done it,” he said.
Another former Occidental student, Angelica Salas ’93, has also been instrumental in the fight for increased immigration rights. She was smuggled into the United States to join her family at the age of four. “My sisters, my father, my brother, and I lived for many years without documents in this country,” she said. One of her brothers was also born in the United States. Though Salas didn’t understand all the implications
of her illegal status, fear was still a constant factor during her childhood. “I grew up with this understanding that the boogey man that I had to be afraid of was immigration,” she said.
Salas spent her formative years in Pasadena and began undergraduate study at Occidental in 1989. Salas indicates that one of many important things she gained at Occidental was an understanding that stories like hers were written frequently. She also learned that these stories could all have positive conclusions. “The one thing that I find very valuable in terms of my experience coming to occidental was that I also learned one thing, which was that you can do things about what you consider unfair,” she said.
The impact immigration had on Salas’ life and the experience she gained at Occidental prompted her to volunteer, a few years after her graduation, at the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). Though she had planned to go to graduate school, Salas fell in love with her work and has been employed at CHIRLA for the past thirteen years. In 1999 she became the organization’s director and has since headed numerous CHIRLA campaigns.
According to Salas, CHIRLA’s mission is to advance the human and civil rights of immigrants and refugees. The coalition focuses its energy on organizing immigrant communities and immigrant youth. One Of CHIRLA’s active campaigns is called Comprehensive Immigration Reform Campaign. Efforts to advance this campaign were tremendous during the months preceding the presidential election. Legal and illegal immigrants went door to door registering 33,496 new citizen voters who they encouraged to flood the polls on Nov. 4. Legal and illegal members of the coalition, according to Salas, were in tears when Barack Obama became the President Elect.
Although the coalition had not supported a specific candidate during the election, “In Electing Barack Obama there was real hope for them [illegal immigrants],” Salas said. She noted that although John McCain was generally supportive of efforts toward immigration reform, his conservative supporters were historically less open to change. If McCain had won the election, this may have impeded CHIRLA’s efforts.
Salas indicates that the first demand CHIRLA will make to the new government is a moratorium on raids and enforcement. “We feel that having raids and enforcing them in the way that it is happening right now, it really doesn’t leave any space to move forward on a proactive agenda because we are so busy dealing with the aftermath and the consequences and really just devastation in people’s lives,” she said.
The expansion of the illegal Mexican population in Los Angeles, partly as a result of United States Immigration Policy, furthered the city’s multicultural identity. More importantly, it resulted in two divergent trends. A growing demand, by some Americans, that the government increase security to uphold the rule of law has resulted in increased border security and a higher frequency of ICE raids.
Other individuals in America are delivering a different demand. They have mobilized against increased security and ICE raids with claims that current laws are broken. As ICE agents band together in search of illegal immigrants, illegal immigrants and their supporters likewise unite. The future will prove how their cries will affect U.S. immigration policy.
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