11 Days for 11 Million — From L.A. to Bakersfield, Fighting for Immigration Reform

On International Human Rights Day, business and labor came together to make a statement:  Economic opportunity is a human right.

Nearly seventy union members travelled from Los Angeles to join small business and community leaders in Bakersfield to tell Rep. Kevin McCarthy that without comprehensive immigration reform, too many immigrant workers are taken advantage of and are denied the opportunity to truly make a better life for themselves and their families.

Betty Madden, a retired costume designer and member of IASTSE Local 892, was motivated to make the early morning bus ride because she’d like to see immigrant workers be able to come out of the shadows and make a living wage.

Said Madden:

I’m going to Bakersfield in order to get immigration reform passed so that all workers can earn better wages. Restaurant workers, service industry workers, warehouse workers, car wash workers and other workers in some of our country’s lowest paid industries are all directly affected by comprehensive immigration reform.

Leslie Gersicoff, Executive Director for the Jewish Labor Council – Western Region, noted that:

“For those that have been here, particularly the 11 million who have raised families and contributed to our society in every way, not to have the respect and protections of citizenship is just shameful. And we need to overcome it, so that’s what got me on the bus today.”

After a two hour drive, the bus pulled into the Marketplace in Bakersfield – a suburban shopping center frequented by the congressman and his family. Leaders from the Kern Coalition for Citizenship, who have been spearheading the 11 Days for 11 Million campaign, greeted the L.A. activists and organized the group to do a human billboard action in front of the Marketplace. Despite being in one of the most conservative neighborhoods in Bakersfield, drivers honked in support.

Victoria Salgado, a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz and volunteer with UNITE HERE 11, stood holding a sign that declared, “Time is Now!” For Salgado, the fight for immigration reform is personal:

“I come from a community of immigrants and my family is an immigrant family. I’m first generation. And although my immediate family has been lucky enough to have all their papers, I have so many other family members who don’t have that same opportunity… I have a lot of friends whose parents haven’t gone back since they were born. It’s pretty terrible, especially during the holidays when you just want to be around family.”

Salgado said if she could ask McCarthy one question, it would be, “Why would you want to keep families broken if you have the power to bring them together?”

But, once again, McCarthy’s office was in lockdown as his staff continued for the eighth straight day to duck and hide from immigration reform advocates and constituents.

Jose Gonzales with Community Trust Credit Union led the speaking program in front of McCarthy’s locked office and spoke about the positive impact immigration reform with a path to citizenship would have on Kern County businesses and workers by saying, “Economic security and opportunity for our community will definitely give … everyone the opportunity to succeed in life.”

Magda Menendez, a small business activist with Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, echoed that sentiment:

 Immigration reform will bring hope to the 11 million undocumented immigrants who have toiled in the shadows in exchange for the promise of a better life and the chance to achieve the American Dream. Immigration reform is pro-economy and good for job creation.

Blodgie Rodriguez with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Ed Herrera, a local small business owner also spoke in behalf of local businesses in support of immigration reform before Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the L.A. County Fed and National Chair of the AFL-CIO Immigration Campaign, closed by calling on McCarthy to do his job:

This is an issue for all of CA and the whole country. We say to Congressman McCarthy, ‘Be a leader.’ You accepted being a national leader in the United States Congress. We have a right to ask you to act like a leader… For us in the labor movement it’s important for us to have immigration reform so that all workers are treated the same and have the same rights as everyone else.

Since McCarthy’s staff would not open the door, the group taped on his office windows pictures of small business storefronts that proudly displayed posters in support of immigration reform. Before leaving, they peered into the dark office and tapped on the windows and closed door chanting, “Knock, knock, knock! Let us in!”.

The office remained shut, but the group was not discouraged. As the L.A. group said goodbye to their Bakersfield hosts, everyone was feeling even more fired up and committed about keeping up the pressure on McCarthy and the House GOP leadership to pass immigration reform.

Maria Elena Durazo gave the crowd one last pep talk:

We will not give up, we will not back down, we will not rest until you finally become a leader of this nation that you promised to be. And that is to represent everybody and respect the wish of the majority of people in the U.S. right now who want immigration reform. Let us have a vote and support immigration reform!