In 1965, Cesar Chavez along with Dolores Huerta, gave voice to the claims of farmworkers and helped organize them to protest for higher wages. Most of the workers were immigrants and were told not to fight the legislation that was always unfavorable to them. With hardly any schooling, but with profound conviction that the workers were called to have a better life he said, ““Sí, se puede”, “Yes, it can be done”! Many years later, Obama adopted the same slogan.
Chavez knew that there was a growing and legitimate discontent that had to be taken to the public and he used all means possible to let the country know what the workers were going through. He understood that there was a strong spiritual component that would strengthen his cause and throw light onto the doings of the opposition. He fasted, prayed and waited.
Historian Howard Zinn said: “If there is going to be change, real change it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves. That’s how change happens”.
History is repeating itself. One can see the many demonstrations, public forums, letters and open discussions about Immigration Reform to show the country in general what is happening to millions of families in this land of freedom and opportunity for all.
The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has implemented the harshest ever immigration reform proposals. Hundreds of thousands are deported every year and many others are fired from their jobs because they are undocumented.
Meanwhile treaties like the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA), adopted 21 years ago, continue to produce a forced migration of more than 8 million people from Mexico and Central America.
The negotiators of immigration reform have presented all sorts of ‘strategies’ which most of the time favor the employers with programs very similar to the bracero’s program that was so harmful to the Mexican workers decades ago.
The communities are offered some sort of legalization with endless requirements and a long legalization process with high fees, and they are also subjected to increased militarization at the border. Meanwhile employers see a way of satisfying their need for workers at the lowest possible wages and fewest possible rights.
The young dreamers took the lead confronting the state by clearly saying: “I am undocumented and I am not afraid”! Since then other immigrants are openly stating the same and staging hunger strikes, or sit ins and engaging legislators at all levels in dialogue.
They are not asking for charity or pity. They are letting people know facts. For example the National Immigration Forum states that undocumented immigrants pay about $7.2 billion annually in taxes, including more than $2.7 billion to Social Security per year, and about $168 million to state unemployment benefit funds. They also remind the public that undocumented workers cannot by law collect any benefits for their contributions. Where is that money and who benefits from it? That’s an unanswered question. Maybe politicians, to cover federal proposals that have no allocated funds, in response to the respective campaign promises, use those moneys.
The industries that benefit most from the undocumented cheap labor are agriculture, food processing, construction, light manufacturing, and domestic services among others. Do they know what the lack of human rights does to the families of the workers involved?
The saga continues, and everyday we will see one or other proposal by candidates of both parties. During the coming months we will hear even more proposals and promises. The immigrants undocumented and documented, believe less and less on those promises.
Their spiritual strength is growing as they acknowledge the suffering of the people and know that their lives are not for sale or trade. They will continue to gather and tell others about the situation until by sheer conviction they reach victory.
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