By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Dozens of immigrant advocates from across the country convened in Washington yesterday to call on President-elect Barack Obama to halt work-site immigration raids and fulfill campaign pledges to offer the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States a path to citizenship within his first year in office.
Representatives of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, a coalition of grass-roots organizations from Los Angeles, New York and the Washington area, also announced plans to mobilize tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters for a demonstration on the Mall on Jan. 21, the day after Obama's inauguration.
"We voted in the millions, and now we're going to demand progress in the millions," said Angelica Salas, director of one of the allied organizations, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, at a news conference to publicize the movement's efforts.
The last attempt by Congress to overhaul the immigration system foundered in spring 2007 amid a storm of angry phone calls from constituents complaining that the legalization component amounted to an unacceptable "amnesty" for lawbreakers. And several members of the coalition acknowledged yesterday that the tanking economy had further complicated their efforts.
However, they said they were also confident that the record participation of Hispanic and immigrant voters in last week's elections would translate into greater political clout.
Turnout among Latinos -- who tend to favor legalizing undocumented immigrants -- increased by 30 percent from the 2004 presidential race. Two-thirds of the Latino vote went to Obama, compared with barely more than half for the 2004 Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.). And Latinos proved particularly helpful to Obama and other Democrats in the battleground states of Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado.
"Historically, we've never had legislative progress on immigration during an economic recession," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of another alliance member, the New York Immigration Coalition. "On the other hand, we've never had these kinds of numbers turn out at the polls. . . . The immigrant and Latino vote has permanently established itself as part of the electoral calculus."
Although Hong and the other speakers said they did not expect Obama to tackle immigration legislation within his first 100 days, they outlined several executive decisions such as the moratorium on immigration raids that they hoped he would take immediately. These included devoting more resources to clearing up a backlog of visa applications, improving conditions at immigrant detention facilities and suspending the Bush administration's recent decision to begin mailing notices to 140,000 employers of workers with suspect Social Security numbers, warning them that they have 90 days to resolve the discrepancies or fire the workers.
"We need an end to these harsh tactics that don't work," Salas said. "Americans have shown that they want practical solutions."