"We Lost a Little Battle..."

Yesterday, the Senate tossed out President Bush's immigration bill that had been crafted to appease both side of the aisle. Today, Unfair Park spoke with Arnulfo De la Cruz, local political director for the Service Employees International Union, about what the bill’s demise means in the context of an immigrant-rights mobilization that began 18 months ago with the largest marches Dallas has ever seen. The brief Q&A with De la Cruz is after the jump.

SEIU made comprehensive immigration reform a chief priority long before the rest of Big Labor realized its importance in stopping the rapid plunge workers’ wages and benefits have taken across the country, in part due to employers’ taking advantage of illegal workers. When I called De la Cruz, I half expected to find him buried in bed, diving into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Instead, he was pretty cheerful -- inspired, even. Here’s what he had to say:

What was your reaction to the bill’s failure?

I was angry. It was so clear on both sides of the debate that that as Americans, we wanted something done, so I felt the leaders we put there didn’t get it done. But this this is just the beginning. When you listen to the radio shows [L.A.’s El Piolin, for example], there are people calling in crying. Right now, what’s running through the community is a lot of anger and a lot of fear, which are two dangerous ingredients unless you channel them into something productive.

So what happens now?

Based on the failure of our elected officials in D.C. to take care of this issue, you’re gonna see people acting locally, and it’s a scary thing, because you have rational people acting irrationally, like in Farmers Branch. We know who failed us, and we need to get them out of there and put in people who are going to get the job done.

We’ve already shown that we can march; what we haven’t shown yet is that we can participate at a high level in the legislative process. So we’re going to focus on the 11 million legal residents here in Texas. We’re running citizenship workshops and we expect thousands to turn out. It’s part of the Ya Es Hora campaign, a partnership between La Raza, SEIU, NALEO [the National Council of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials] and Univision…

We’re gonna continue to show the American public that not being willing to address immigration reform affects not just immigrants, but all Americans. The price of the failure is more people dying in the desert, more families separated, and wages and benefits going down for all workers because employers use the immigration status quo as a way to increase profits. So, we lost a little battle, but this is a huge war. --Megan Feldman

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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