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"Rising as One" around Immigration Reform at NCLR 2013

  ·  Isabel Anadon

NCLR Annual ConferenceThousands of Latino advocates and allies “rose as one” at the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) annual conference, held in New Orleans at the end of July. (Check out Twitter traffic from the conference.) New Orleans’ rich history of immigration, diversity and recent struggle to rebuild figured prominently into the conference, as did current events unfolding around immigration reform in Washington D.C. and the community’s attempt to organize for equitable reform. While First Lady Michelle Obama, the much anticipated keynote speaker, disappointed many by making only a fleeting mention of immigration in her remarks, reform and immigrant realities were at the center of many conference activities. 

Day One of NCLR kicked off with the aptly titled “Day One of Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Preparing the Road to Citizenship” workshop, which emphasized the need for proactive planning before immigration reform passes so that community organizations are ready to assist their clients on their journeys down the pathway. As one panelist quipped, that planning “needs to have begun yesterday.” 

Marcy Gonzalez, director of legal services at Latinos Progresando, a member of the Latino Policy Forum’s Immigration Acuerdo, counseled organizations to prep their infrastructure and human resources for pending reform. Her suggestions ranged from ensuring that organizations have sufficient BIA accredited and trained staff to investing in a copy machine that can handle the taxing work of printing loads of applications and the accompanying documentation. Later in the week, the Latino Policy Forum shared the stage with Latinos Progresando at the Midwest Affiliate gathering discussing the “Do’s and Don’ts of Implementation of Immigration Reform,” providing a legislative update while reiterating that organizations can’t afford to wait for reform to pass to begin planning.  

But the dialogue on immigration wasn’t relegated to the purely logistical. At “Beyond Black and Brown: Race, Power and Immigration,” attendees discussed how “Black and Brown” communities were challenged to “rise as one” in post-Katrina New Orleans as African American communities struggled with displacement while recent Latino immigrants arrived to assist with reconstruction. The workshop examined how advocates can collaborate on issues that cut across racial and ethnic lines in a world where oppression has become more complex, ingrained in institutional and policy structures. Flozell Daniels, president and CEO of the Foundation for Louisiana, highlighted a possible common cause: combatting the various forces that have conspired to make 98 percent of Louisiana inmates either African American or Latino. 

Illinois was well represented in New Orleans, with Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) headlining the final town hall discussion, “Immigration: The Moral, Economic and Political Imperatives for Winning Reform.” Introduced as the “moral conscious” of reform in the House of Representatives, Gutierrez announced that a House comprehensive bill will be introduced after Labor Day and will include some stronger immigrant-friendly elements than the Senate bill. Gutierrez went on to share the stage with leaders across faith, business, ethnic and partisan lines; all of them emphasized the importance of addressing reform now. 

Unfortunately, not everyone discussed the urgent need for immigration reform. First Lady Obama only made one (brief) comment about immigration reform when she took the stage to address the thousands-strong Latino audience at a luncheon. She reaffirmed the president’s support for the issues that are important to the Latino community, including immigration reform, and that he will continue to work to ensure reform happens in D.C. After the speech, I spoke to many frustrated audience members who were disappointed that First Lady Obama could not afford more substantive comments on the urgent need for immigration reform, especially given the issue is an integral element of the capitol’s current political climate.  

Final workshops related to immigration at NCLR 2013, including “Immigration Innovation” Addressing Deferred Action and Related Policy in a Digital Age,” highlighted VISANOW Global Immigration, a Chicago-based firm that focuses its efforts on providing comprehensive legal services and strong customer service to immigrants while utilizing cutting-edge online technology.

It is always a privilege to be a part of NCLR’s annual conference, and 2013 was no exception. New Orleans’ long history of immigration mirrors the immigrant histories of cities across the country and reiterates the urgency of reform and possibilities for progress. 

(PHOTO: USDAgov/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Posted In: Immigration, Immigration Reform & Policy

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