- Posted byon March 29, 2013 at 5:07 PM EDT
Rich Stolz is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
I cut my teeth in the immigrant rights movement nearly twenty years ago when I volunteered to help register voters and organize students against California’s anti-immigrant Prop 187. The defining moment for me was a trip down to Fresno when I and other students met with farm workers and attorneys fighting for the rights of immigrant workers and responding to raids being conducted by INS that were terrorizing families and intimidating activists.
This all happened at a time in my life when I was exploring my own identity as a Korean America – half Asian/half white – and understanding more deeply the history of the movement for equal justice and identity in the United States. I was profoundly influenced by the strategic brilliance and courage of Cesar Chavez, the debates over pan-Asian movement building in California, the example of liberation theology in the Catholic Church in which I was educated, and the powerful non-violent movement for civil rights and equal justice for African American liberation.
Today, as the Executive Director of OneAmerica, I continue to draw on this history for inspiration. OneAmerica was born in the fight to contain the backlash against religious, ethnic, immigrant, and refugee communities following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I am proud and committed to our multi-ethnic organizational identity, and our focus on organizing immigrant and refugee communities across Washington State to build power in low-income communities of color to change the policies and institutions that impact the day to day lives of families and workers. I’m also proud of the amazing work we’ve done to make Washington State a more welcoming community, and to build the electoral strength of immigrant and refugee communities statewide.
Today, as we participate and lead in the campaign to enact just and humane immigration reform in Congress, I’m struck at how much the immigrant rights movement has grown in just the last decade. Our work in Washington State with the labor movement, the business community, the faith community, the civil rights community, and the vibrant community of immigrant groups, LGBT allies, women’s groups, and environmental groups reflect the growth of this movement nationwide.
Organizing is at the core of what we do. And the grassroots leaders of today – those being honored through the Champions of Change ceremony, and the countless volunteers, leaders and advocates on whom the honorees’ own work depends – are my continuing inspiration every day.
Rich Stolz is the Executive Director of OneAmerica
- Posted byon March 29, 2013 at 4:45 PM EDT
Lawrence Benito is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
As community organizers, we know first-hand that democracy is not a spectator sport. Change can only happen with an engaged citizenry willing to take action. At the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), our mission is to promote the full participation of immigrants in the political, social, cultural, and economic fabric of our diverse society. Over the last decade, we have marched, registered voters, and turned out people to vote for our candidate: comprehensive immigration reform.
When I see immigrants today, whether at naturalization ceremonies as they take the oath to become United States citizens, or aspiring citizens organizing for fairer immigration policies, I am reminded of my family’s story. When my grandfather arrived as a teenager in northern California to work in the fields, he was welcomed by signs on buildings that read “Positively No Filipinos Allowed” as well as anti-miscegenation laws stating that the races could not mix. When the depression hit, the jobs dried up and my grandfather went home, but he had dreams for his own children, who came to America several decades later.
As a second-generation Filipino-American, in many ways I am the product of an American dream. My parents came to America in the late 1960s for the same reasons as earlier generations of immigrants: in search of a better life for themselves and their family. Seeing their early struggles for acceptance and respect as immigrants to this country, and my own attempts to navigate the two worlds, was not always easy. I chose to become a community organizer because I saw my own family’s struggles reflected in the latest generation of immigrants to our country.
My commitment to immigration reform is born out of my family’s experiences, as well as witnessing the challenges and struggles of thousands of immigrant families in Illinois. The families that I have seen are hard-working, welcoming, and have a deep sense of faith and dignity. Their values and contributions to Illinois and to our nation are inspiring. These same families are tested with the ordeals and pains of family separation; mothers and fathers being taken from their children, or a sister who is made to wait twenty years to see her brother.
The fight for immigration reform has been a long battle. However, the demographic changes, along with the growing political recognition of Latino and immigrant voters this past election has led to a breakthrough this year, and hopes are high for immigration reform legislation to be passed in 2013. In Illinois, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) has led efforts to promote citizenship, immigration reform and immigrant integration, as well as voter registration, mobilization, and broader civic engagement. Through grassroots organizing efforts, public education, and electoral work, ICIRR has worked across party lines to advance policies and initiatives that welcome immigrants and recognize their contributions to all aspects of our society.
Nationally, ICIRR plays a leadership role within the Fair Immigration Reform Movement to advance just and humane immigration policies, and with the National Partnership for New Americans to promote citizenship, volunteerism, and immigrant integration.
I am honored and humbled to be one of the Cesar Chavez Champions of Change awardees because of the work of our many member institutions and the collective work of the many organizations working on immigration reform nationally. This recognition is the work of many fearless leaders who have refused to give up, and have continued to organize regardless of their immigration status, and to speak truth to power. Their passion and commitment is an inspiration to us all.
Lawrence Benito serves as the Chief Executive Officer at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR).
- Posted byon March 29, 2013 at 4:19 PM EDT
Yvanna Cancela is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
It is a tremendous honor to accept the Champions of Change Award because the life and work of Cesar Chavez inspires me every day. Chavez's legacy continues on in the hundreds of thousands of workers who come together to demand justice. I am proud to call these men and women my union sisters and brothers.
When staying at a hotel, most people don't think about the housekeeper who made their bed, the kitchen worker who cleaned their plate, or the cook who prepared their meal. UNITE HERE has worked for decades to ensure these “invisible workers” and their basic needs – good healthcare, decent wages and job security – are not overlooked. The union has provided thousands of people the opportunity to provide better lives for themselves and their families. In Las Vegas, the Culinary Workers Local 226 has helped build the city's middle class. The union has focused on empowering its members to win their contracts and ultimately their future.
However, the work of the labor movement goes beyond the workplace. My work is centered on ensuring workers have a strong voice in their communities. I was lucky to land in Las Vegas as a neighborhood organizer during the 2010 elections. For most of five months, I spent every day knocking on doors and talking to voters in predominantly Latino neighborhoods. This gave me a clear understanding of local issues facing Las Vegans, including a weak education system and lackluster housing market. In my time at the union, I have been able to work with members and tackle these challenges head on.
During the 2011 Legislative session, Local 226 founded an organization called Nevada Students Unite Here. I directed a campaign to support education funding and prevent budget cuts. Our campaign led to over 8,000 contacts with students, parents, and union members who were deeply concerned with the issues. Ultimately, by working with community and political allies, we were able to guarantee that devastating cuts were not made to the education budget. It was tremendously empowering to represent our members and their families on such an important issue. As the Legislature convenes again this year, I am working on helping to pass legislation that protects underwater homeowners. I’m also focused on bills that will improve the quality of care in Nevada’s healthcare system.
The most important work I am doing involves union members and immigration reform. As the daughter of immigrants, it is tremendously important for me that comprehensive reform be made a reality. It is easy to understand why UNITE HERE has been at the forefront of the immigration debate. My union represents workers from more than 100 countries. In Vegas alone there are workers from 84 nations. These members came in search of a better future, one with good jobs and opportunities for their families. Ten years ago, my union organized the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride as part of a national campaign for comprehensive reform. We have stood by the DREAMers, hosted DACA application fairs, and will do whatever it takes to support the Administration’s push for reform. I have the privilege of speaking to workers about this issue and mobilizing them into action.
Cesar Chavez envisioned a world where all workers, regardless of their job or nationality could have dignity in the workplace. By training union members to be leaders at work and in their communities, I believe UNITE HERE is making Chavez’s vision a reality.
Yvanna Cancela is the political director at UNITE HERE’s Local 226, the Culinary Workers Union.
- Posted byon March 29, 2013 at 3:53 PM EDT
Bonnie M. Youn is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
On the eve of historic Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2013, I am honored, as both an immigrant and an immigration attorney, to be selected as a White House Cesar Chavez Champion of Change. As our great Nation debates over whether to grant a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who have been here for decades, I share my own story of how I became an American, and how it inspires me to help others achieve that same dream.
I was born to Korean parents in the Philippines. Before moving to Manila, my parents had come to the U.S. in the 1960s to pursue their dreams of higher education, my father at Yale and my mother at New York University. Even earlier, both my maternal uncles had come when they received full scholarships to Dartmouth and Princeton. They were all astronauts. In a time when Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) immigrants were a novelty, they blazed their paths. Having survived the horrors of the Korean War, their burning desire was to pursue their education, find economic stability, and build a future for their families.
It is the same story for most immigrants today. I was fortunate that my parents planned so long in advance for my journey. One of my uncles sponsored my mother under the Family Sibling Category. It took over a decade before our greencards were approved—just in nick of time for me, as I had just been accepted to Brown University. As a permanent resident, I had access to Stafford Loans and Pell grants to help pay my tuition. I was a work-study student, slinging hash during the morning cafeteria shift. I was so proud to earn that paycheck.
My own story is what inspired me to become an immigration attorney, and ultimately an advocate for AAPI communities in the Southeast. Moving to Atlanta in 1994, I was certain that there would be few or no Asians in Georgia. How wrong I was. I found the bustling ethnic corridors of Buford Highway and Chamblee/Doraville, where other AAPI immigrants had discovered that the cost of living in the South was much more affordable than on the coasts. One year later, in 1995, I naturalized as an American citizen.
The Census shows that the Georgia AAPI population has grown by 83 percent from 2000 to 2010, now numbering nearly 400 thousand. The face of the South is changing. I can see that growth right outside my office, where I practice in Gwinnett County. I also see the struggles that we face as small business owners, students, refugees, and skilled professionals in our immigration journeys. I meet people who have long hidden in the shadows, often preyed upon, or suffering due to the lack of language access to basic government services, healthcare, housing, and the legal system. And I see the successes of immigrants with a burning entrepreneurial drive, creating jobs and contributing to our economy.
Because you see, not only am I an immigration attorney, but I am a small business owner. A huge part of my law practice is employment-based immigration: helping foreign college graduates obtain H-1B work visas and their greencards. While I am encouraged that Congress is contemplating an increase to the skilled worker visa numbers, it concerns me greatly that this may be at the expense of cutting family-based immigration categories. Extended families bring individuals just like me, who have the potential to make tremendous contributions to the fabric of America.
AAPIs are now reaching new levels of political maturity, voting and running for office in greater numbers than at any time in America’s history. I realized that because I have the skill-set to clearly articulate our community’s voices, I needed to step up and lead. And I am not alone. I have had the pleasure of working with the most incredible teams to bring the White House Initiative on AAPIs to Atlanta in 2012, and to gather the largest number of AAPIs to the Georgia State Capitol in 2013. We have impressed upon our elected officials that our communities matter, and we are no longer satisfied to remain the quiet, mythical “model minority.”
I am humbled by the White House’s recognition, but it is an award that I bring home for my communities, to hopefully open new doors of opportunity for others. As Cesar Chavez once said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
- Posted byon March 29, 2013 at 3:27 PM EDT
Jason Mathis is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
Many people were deeply concerned about the direction Utah was headed the summer of 2010. Arizona had just passed SB 1070 requiring police to question people about their immigration status and Utah seemed destined to follow the same course. Legislators were lining up to support a carbon copy of the Arizona law and polling showed support from 65 percent of the state. People were being told that compassion was a dirty word. Anyone who spoke for a rational approach was accused of supporting amnesty – and the way they said amnesty let you know that they didn’t think it was a good thing.
I always felt we could do better. The vitriol that engulfed the immigration discussions didn’t truly represent the people of my community. There is a core of decency and goodness here as there is in many other places across our country. If we could empower people with a little courage we could move the discussion to a more constructive place. Working with my colleagues at the Salt Lake Chamber we started to strategically talk about immigration in a more values-based way. We hoped to create a chorus of voices who could “appeal to the better angels of our nature.” The Utah Compact was the outgrowth of this effort.
The document is a simple and elegant rebuttal to “what part of illegal don’t you understand?” The 224 words of The Utah Compact focus on five core values: Federal Solutions, Law Enforcement, Families, the Economy, and a Free Society. The Utah Compact was literally written by dozens of people. The original draft may have lived on my laptop, but by the time the document was released it had been edited and improved by many other voices including political officials, captains of industry, law enforcement officers and religious leaders from many faiths. Every word was thoughtfully considered and every phrase was nuanced.
A signing ceremony with community leaders was held at the Utah State Capitol on November 11, 2010. Within a few days the New York Times ran an editorial about The Utah Compact that read:
A clearer expression of good sense and sanity than Utah’s would be harder to find. It says that immigration is an issue between the federal government and other countries – “not Utah and other countries.” It says local police agencies should focus on fighting crime, “not civil violations of federal code.” Because “strong families are the foundation of successful communities” it opposes policies that unnecessarily separates them. It recognizes immigrants’ value as workers and taxpayers. It ends by urging a humane approach to the reality of immigration: “Utah should always be a place that welcomes people of good will.
The Times editorial was followed by endorsements in local and national publications including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. An editorial in the Arizona Republic urged the Copper State to follow Utah’s example. Indeed, immigration leaders in a dozen other states have since adopted similar compacts, encouraging elected leaders to adopt a reasonable approach to immigration reform in their own communities.
By the time the Utah Legislature met in January, 66 percent supported comprehensive reform – a swing of nearly 40 percent in three months. The Utah Compact was not the only force driving this sea change, but it was a clarifying moment in what was otherwise a heated and destructive conversation. By authentically speaking to core American values, The Compact holds a mirror up to immigration questions and asks us to find a better way. The resulting laws based on The Utah Compact are not perfect. But they set our community on a pragmatic path that embraces compassion and human kindness. The appeal of The Utah Compact comes from its simplicity and authenticity. It changed the trajectory of Utah’s policies and the national discussion by creating a more civil and comprehensive approach to immigration reform.
Jason Mathis is the executive director of Salt Lake City’s Downtown Alliance and EVP of the Salt Lake Chamber.
- Posted byon March 29, 2013 at 2:56 PM EDT
Matthew Soerens is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
Like many other Americans, most of what I thought about issues of immigration throughout most of my life was based on what I saw on television, heard on the radio, or read in the newspaper. Some was positive, much was negative, and none of it seemed to affect me directly, particularly where I grew up, in the mostly ethnically homogenous part of Northeastern Wisconsin. Over the past several years, though, I’ve been challenged to see the various ways that my own values – those of our country, of my faith, and of my family – compel me to see immigration in a different light. Through my work at World Relief, where our mission is to empower local churches to serve the most vulnerable, including refugees, victims of human trafficking, and undocumented immigrants, I now have the privilege of encouraging others within my faith community to rediscover their values and to apply them to the complex and sometimes controversial topic of immigration.
The United States of America is, as John F. Kennedy called it, “a nation of immigrants.” Except for those of Native American ancestry, we all can trace our heritage back to somewhere else, whether our ancestors came on the Mayflower or a slave ship, into Ellis Island or Angel Island, into JFK Airport or across the Rio Grande. At its founding, America was, as our first president said, “open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions.” Though at various moments in our history we have not fully lived up to that standard, it remains core to our national identity. I’m inspired by my Dutch immigrant ancestors, and I see reflections of their courage in the immigrants arriving today.
My faith teaches me that I must remember not only my immigrant ancestors’ valor and ingenuity, but also God’s grace in bringing them from the desperation they left behind, through immense struggles upon arrival in a new country where they were not always welcomed, to rebuilding a new life in the United States. In the Hebrew Scriptures, God commands his people to remember their own history as foreigners in the land of Egypt and to allow their own experience to inform the way that they would treat those who migrated to their land later: “Don’t oppress an immigrant,” God says very clearly. “You know what it’s like to be an immigrant, because you were immigrants…” (Exodus 23:9, Common English Bible). God repeatedly commands his people, as individuals and as a society, to care for those who are most vulnerable, specifically mentioning the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow on multiple occasions. The Bible is replete with commands to hospitality – literally, the love of strangers – with the suggestion that by welcoming strangers, we might just be welcoming an angel without realizing it (Hebrews 13:2).
That reality – that immigrants, rather than people to be feared, may actually be a blessing – has been the experience of my own family. When I was just a small child, my mother met a young woman who had recently arrived from Mexico in the nursing mothers’ room of our church. Putting the values of her own faith into action, my mother befriended the young woman and invited her over for lunch. When she learned that the young immigrant and her baby were living in a dangerous situation of domestic violence, my mother invited them into our home, where they lived in our basement for several months while getting back onto their feet. In the process, they became a part of our family, enriching our lives in countless ways.
When we apply our values – American values, values of our faith traditions, family values – to the realities of immigration to the United States, our national dialogue transforms from a fixation on an imagined threat to the recognition of a tremendous opportunity. We can then work together across partisan, religious, geographic, and ethnic divides to establish laws that reflect our shared values and to build a society that welcomes those who arrive as strangers into our communities. As we do so, our country, our faith communities, and our families are strengthened in the process.
Matthew Soerens is the U.S. Church Training Specialist at World Relief and the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate.
- Posted byon March 29, 2013 at 2:15 PM EDT
Judy Rickard is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
Since I came out as a lesbian in 1973 I have worked to stop discrimination and create equality in my San Francisco Bay Area community. In the early days it was hard to get people to listen to what I had to say in my fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation. It wasn't easy being different then and it wasn't easy trying to get discrimination to stop. Little by little, working in community, I helped make a difference and helped make people safer and more equal. But my story has not really changed - it just gets longer. Discrimination is still out there. When I was in my late 50s I ran into the biggest and baddest discrimination yet - from my own American government. And it was because of the best thing that had happened to me in years: I fell in love.
Nothing is more personal than who you are, who you love, and how you create family. But because of who I am and who I love and how I have created my family, America forced me to choose between spouse and career, spouse and country, spouse and family, life as I knew it and an unknown future. That's not right! No American should have to face such choices. For me and my wife, and an estimated thirty-six thousand other such families, our futures are not our own. DOMA determines them. So my work to fight discrimination amped up big time.
When I met my wife and we fell in love and committed to each other, we had no idea it would mean lots of separation and possibly leaving America, a future that still looms for us. I never thought I would have to leave my country to stay with my wife. Who would imagine that? It shouldn't be a risk, a problem, against the law to love and commit to someone born in another country. But we have paid a big price by being different, being a same-sex binational couple. We have been apart half of our time together because we are both women and not both American citizens. We have faced expenses and problems and stress that most people don't have to deal with just to be partners, family, loved ones.
When the hammer dropped five years ago, I made the right choice, the only one. I took early retirement with a reduced pension for the rest of my life so that my wife and I would be together more than apart. Why? Because Karin was detained in a cell at the San Francisco International Airport and told she was visiting the U.S. too often. She was told to get her affairs in order and leave the country for a long time. She wasn't even allowed to visit me for the usual six months. Her crime? She had been visiting too often.
I knew we had to fight this discrimination and realized we needed a tool to share the information. My book, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, is part memoir, part a collection of stories of others' who are discriminated against by DOMA, part a how-to on how others can help and part resource guide. It keeps getting updated with my blog and web site at http://tornapart.findhornpress.com.
Sharing my story - personal and political - is how I roll. Letters to editors, conferences, phone calls, blogs; you name it, I do it. As my book came out, I met more allies. I got more press. I talked to elected officials. I spoke at churches. I spoke to organizations and conferences. I shared with LGBT seniors and youth. But the most powerful efforts by far were dialogues with immigrant groups. We learned of each other’s struggles and found commonality. I learned to go outside my comfort zone. And it just keeps going. Sharing that story. Finding those allies. Blogging. Posting on Facebook. Creating a Facebook page for my book. Creating a portrait project of same-sex binational couples. Creating a Facebook page for that. Working on the solution we all need. Sharing. Connecting. Making friends. Making community.
So here I am, being honored as a Cesar Chavez Champion of Change. Something else new has happened to me because of my story. But the truth is very personal. Here it is: immigration, like sexual orientation, is not a skin color, or a country of origin, or a religion, or a culture, or an ethnicity. It's all that and more. It's not "them." It's "us." We need a country where we are all "us." Let's make it so!
Some people think of immigrants and hold the word "illegal" in their hearts and minds. Some people think of the LGBT community and hold the word "immoral" in their hearts and minds. Imagine how that makes people like me and my wife feel! We live in that world where these two intersect - it's like pouring gas on a fire when people who hold illegal and immoral in their hearts and minds think of LGBT immigrants and same-sex binational families. These categories, LGBT and immigrant, are the two most volatile subjects in politics today. Who is going to help us? Who will include us in comprehensive, common sense immigration reform?
DOMA is at the Supreme Court this week. Three bills are working their way slowly through Congress. President Obama has spoken out for people like me and my wife. I'm 65 now. My wife is 72. I sure hope to spend whatever remains of my golden years being able to do other things than fight to keep my wife with me. In my country we say that's the American dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I'd like an unimpeded chance at that. So would lots of others.
Judy Rickard is the author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law and works to promote civil rights.
- Posted byon March 25, 2013 at 4:25 PM EDT
During this festival of freedom, Jews gather around the Seder table to engage in one of the oldest traditions in the Jewish faith. One of the highlights of the Passover holiday is, of course, the food. On Passover, food assumes a special role: it not only nourishes; it educates. As families gather around the Seder table, much of the night’s discussion revolves around the Seder plate. The Seder plate, or the ke’ara, holds six traditional items: the marror, lettuce, shank bone, egg, charoset, and the vegetable. These foods have played a central role in the Passover Seder throughout generations, allowing Jews today to connect with their forbearers from thousands of years ago.
As President Obama said in his Passover statement this year:
"Passover is a celebration of the freedom our ancestors dreamed of, fought for, and ultimately won. But even as we give thanks, we are called to look to the future. We are reminded that responsibility does not end when we reach the promised land, it only begins. As my family and I prepare to once again take part in this ancient and powerful tradition, I am hopeful that we can draw upon the best in ourselves to find the promise in the days that lie ahead, meet the challenges that will come, and continue the hard work of repairing the world. Chag sameach." --President Obama
As in previous years, we have compiled recipes for Passover from members of the White House staff. These dishes, like the foods displayed on the Seder plate, inspire those who enjoy them to remember their own family histories. Whether eliciting warm memories from childhood or a grandparent’s experience in a foreign land, or serving as an expression of a unique ethnic or cultural background, these foods bring further meaning and power to this special holiday. Chag Sameach.