Friday, March 18, 2011

8th Annual Human Rights Fetival: “Countering Common Myths about our Latino Immigrants”

Last Thursday I and about 50 members of the public attended a presentation sponsored by diverse members of the Skagit Latino Community at the Skagit Valley Community College.

While naturally offended by untrue derogatory comments made about immigrants, the presenters were enthusiastic about the progress made by many Latinos in the Skagit Valley.  

The panelist pictured from left were Anita OrdoƱez, Director, Multicultural Student Services at SVC & LAC; Diana Morelli, EDASC & LAC; Janice Blackmore, Migrant Graduation Specialist with MVSD; Jesse Cavazos, Migrant Education & LAC; Rev. Josefina Beecher, Episcopal Hispanic ministry & LAC

 The panel addressed the issue that troubles immigrants and citizens: “Why are farm workers undocumented”.   Because Skagit county is a farming community we have a slightly larger percentage of Latino’s than the USA Average of 15% - ours being 16%.  Farmers desperately need farm workers but  in order to get a Visa one must have a job, own property and a bank account.  Farmers were hoping that with the increase in WA State non-farm unemployment they would be able to hire locally.  However, the few local people that applied could not tolerate the long hours bent over all day.   The USA does have a guest worker program.  It is small and complex. By the time an application goes through the bureaucratic process,  the harvest season would long be over.  ( My family lived in Germany illegally for several months because my husband’s employer would rather pay the fine than fill out the extensive paperwork to extend our stay).   So farmers cope with sub rosa recruitment our current system ( or lack thereof ) imposes.

In spite of our failed immigration system, the Latino community has bright spots in Washington State.   Latino families enroll enthusiastically in ESL courses and have improved their English language skills. There is always a waiting list for these courses.    Discovering that Latino students were too shy to fill out applications for scholarships, Skagit Valley College Director of Student Services Anita Ordonez (far left in picture above) proposed that promising student be nominated for Scholarships. That program has been successful and now many Latino Students are earning scholarships to WA State public colleges and universities.   Diana Morelli of the Latino Advisory Committee (LAC) reported on the many new business started and operated by their community e.g. groceries, restaurants, construction, newspapers and a community center.

Utterly charming were the immigrant children indigenous to Oaxaca, Mexico.  These children have needed to  learn three languages at a very young age:  Mixtec, Spanish and English.  Working hard to overcome their shyness several of them read a short essay in their native Mixtec language about themselves and their goals.  I understand about 80% of what people say in Spanish.  Mixtec is very, very different.  While they were reading, the English version of their presentation was shown on a large screen behind them.  

Tino Gallegos (above) , once a student of Mt. Vernon High School and now an Immigration attorney, expounded on the importance of Human Rights for Migrant workers.  Civil Rights are guaranteed to citizens by our constitution.   Those rights and others were extended to everyone by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by the United States government in 1948.  Human Rights were developed after World War II in response to the horrors that people witnessed and hoped to prevent in the future.   Human Rights apply to how a country can treat its immigrant population.  A government can not just throw someone in prison because they are not a citizen.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

10th District Town Hall meeting on March 12th

Like other State Senators throughout the State, 10th District Senator Mary Haugen held  Town Hall meetings Saturday March 12th.  I attended the one at the Camano Island Senior Center.  The audience consisted of about 60 local citizens of all ages.  Politeness prevailed even though feelings were aroused by the negative news Senator Haugen candidly delivered.  The state lost 200,000  jobs during the recession.  Although billions have been cut in State services and public employee’s compensation since 2009, the state still needs to cut 4.5 billion more. But How?  The Senator claims that even if we cut all spending on education, the prison system and environmental efforts, the State still would not balance its budget.  

More so than in many other States,  Senator Haugen  reported that Republicans and Democrats are cooperating on the budget and that the legislators have good relations with Labor.  She praised the WA State Ferries’ union workers for coming to an agreement that will provide savings and reduce ‘Waste in the Water’.  A 25 cent surcharge is being proposed that will go towards building a new boat.

Resentment was high among many in attendance.  They felt tax loopholes and special tax exemptions should be eliminated first before the public is asked to make more sacrifices.   A member of the citizens’ coalition called “Our Economic Future”  passed out a list of what they considered unfair tax exemptions.  I totaled them up to 313 million dollars.  That would equal about half of the amount already cut from the State education budget.  When asked why these loopholes were not being closed,  the Senator reminded the audience that Court Rulings had declared that closing the loopholes would be equivalent to raising taxes, which requires a super majority.  So unless the State elects a much larger percentage of Democratic legislators a super majority that would close loopholes is unlikely.

 Senator Haugen and many in the audience believed the US Supreme Court’s decision in 2010 - Citizen United vs Federal Election Commission - has already adversely impacted WA.  The American Beverage Association spent over 14 million to pass initiative 1107 last Fall that repealed the small taxes on soda pop, bottle water, candy and gum.  The money funded k-12 education and social services.  For more info click here.