Speaker advocates amnesty for immigrants

by Amy Kingsley

The head of the Mexican-American Political Association urged a crowd gathered in downtown Greensboro Aug. 8 to push for legislation that would grant amnesty to the nation’s 12 million undocumented immigrants.

Nativo Lopez, who is also executive director of the nonprofit group Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, appeared at the behest of the local chapter of the International Socialist Organization. About 30 people gathered at the Greensboro Cultural Center in downtown to hear Lopez speak. His appearance was part of a 20-city tour of the East Coast and Midwest that ended Sunday with the National Immigrant Rights Strategy Convention in Chicago.

Lopez played an integral role in organizing large-scale protests on March 25 and the Great American Boycott of May 1. In 2003 he was recalled from the school board in Santa Ana, Calif. for failing to enforce Proposition 227, which requires English-only instruction in public schools. Lopez’s opponents have compared his importance in Southern California politics to that of Al Sharpton in New York.

“Immigration reform should take place,” Lopez said. “But it should emanate directly from the will of the immigrant.”

Lopez has come out publicly against both House Resolution 4437, the enforcement-only immigration reform bill that originated in the US House of Representatives, and Senate Bill 2611, which was portrayed as a compromise. Immigrants who have been in the US for five or more years would be granted citizenship under the Senate bill, those here for at least three years would have to leave the country and apply for citizenship. The newest immigrants – those here for less than three years – would be deported.

“There hasn’t been legislation like this since the Fugitive Slave Act of 1851,” Lopez said referring to the House legislation. “That made it a felony offense to aid and abet a fugitive slave seeking freedom.”

Illegal immigration has boosted the American economy, Lopez said, by providing cheap labor that would otherwise be in short supply. Remittances to Mexico and El Salvador from undocumented immigrants have kept those nations from sliding into economic and social chaos, Lopez added.

“All workers in America, all workers of the world create wealth,” Lopez said. “All workers in America and all workers of the world create value. Only workers create value, and immigrant workers more so because they don’t get paid as much.”

Lopez spoke for about 45 minutes before opening the floor to questions. Marisol Jimenez-McGee from El Pueblo in Raleigh asked Lopez what immigrant advocacy groups could do to fight backlash against the protesters. She mentioned anti-immigrant billboards in western North Carolina, changes in North Carolina law that make it more difficult to obtain a driver’s license and a decrease in funding for Hispanic and Latino nonprofits.

Lopez encouraged all those at the forum to attend the weekend conference in Chicago.

“We are essentially seeking to do two things in Chicago,” he said. “We are going to better organize ourselves and teach ourselves what our rights are under the Constitution.”

Lopez said he hopes to align the immigrants’ movement with organizations fighting for women’s rights, civil rights and labor unions.

“What we’re proposing is to declare one movement USA,” he said.

In addition to fighting for citizenship for those immigrants already in the country, Lopez said he advocates policies that are more welcoming to those that will come in the future. Free trade agreements with Mexico have wiped out thousands of family farmers who might move north to support their families, he said.

“Mexico does not currently have the wherewithal to produce the one million jobs needed to sustain its population,” he said.

Lopez did not provide any concrete answers to Jimenez-McGee. Instead he told her to strengthen her organization at the grassroots and work for independence from corporate and government funding.

“Strategy and the movement begins and ends with the immigrant,” he said.

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