How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Immigrant advocates, labor and business rally together for immigration reform

US-IMMIGRATION-PROTEST

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Immigration activists stage a civil disobedience action, blocking a street in front of Varick Street Detention Center, in New York, August 22, 2013.

They could be considered strange bedfellows, but immigrant advocates, labor and business leaders in California are coming together to make a concerted push for immigration reform as Congress returns to session.

A series of "Get Back to Work"-themed events were held Monday around the state. In Los Angeles, representatives from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce gathered outside the L.A. Chamber offices downtown to call on Congress not to drop immigration reform, as issues like a possible military strike on Syria and the federal budget become top priorities.

While immigrant advocates and business leaders in California have stood side by side on some issues before - for example, in support of the California Dream Act, a 2011 measure signed by Gov. Jerry Brown two years ago that allowed greater access to financial aid for undocumented college students - they've traditionally represented different interests.

Business groups have long advocated for immigration reform, but from the employer perspective, addressing the demand for work visas and other employer priorities. But as the promise of reform in 2013 becomes more distant, Monday's message was "all for one and one for all."

"We're all on the same train in terms of the goal that we want to achieve," said Gary Toebben, president and CEO of the L.A. Chamber. "The business community comes at it from one angle, the advocacy community another angle. Maybe we're sitting in different rows on that train, but we’re all headed for the same direction."

The local chamber has granted scholarships to immigrant youths, another point of common ground. But the working relationship between the chamber and immigrant advocates, that a few years ago was centered around students has evolved, said Angelica Salas, director of CHIRLA.

"The connection began around young people and immigrant youth who wanted to go on to school," said Salas. "But in getting to know these young people, they have also connected with their parents, their mom and dad, and really understood that why these kids were succeeding so much was because they had strong parents who also wanted to succeed, many of them who don't have legal status."

There is also a growing sense of urgency to sway Republicans in the House to take action, before this year's window for reform closes.

"The system is broken, and the system doesn't work for employers, it doesn’t work for businesses, it doesn’t work for the economy to have 11 million people who are underground," said Maria Elena Durazo of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. "Our common ground is that we're reaching out, together - many times together, sometimes on our own. Whatever makes sense to that member of Congress." 

Salas said more events and rallies are planned for the coming months as the legislative clock ticks on.

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