Labor leaders and community activists gathered Thursday evening to tell Santa Ana residents of what they described as a "small window of opportunity" to make a difference in immigration reform.
"The reality is we need to visit our elected officials, make calls to our congressmen," said Julio Perez of the Orange County Labor Federation to the gathering of about three dozen residents at the nonprofit Latino Health Access headquarters.
"And we have about four or five months to do it," he said.
Perez was referring to the amount of time he and others estimate it will take Congress to put forward a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Immigration has been a front-line topic since November, when President Barak Obama won reelection thanks in large measure to strong support from Latinos. Since the election, many Republicans have softened their stance against undocumented immigrants out of what they see as political necessity
Few places in the nation would be more affected by immigration reform than Santa Ana. Quoting census statistics, Perez said the city ranks seventh among 282 large cities in the United States when it comes to the number of immigrants living within its borders. He added that on a percentage basis, Orange County has more immigrants than Los Angeles.
Others speaking at Thursday's meeting, which was sponsored by the Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities Coalition, included representatives from Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), the Orange County Immigration Coalition (OCIC), the Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO) and the OC Dream Team.
The speakers focused on changing Republican minds on the issue but said theirs is more than a simple task of pushing back against hard-line GOP members of Congress. More people have been deported under the Obama administration than during the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush, they said.
"We can't let these people down," said Minerva Gomez of OCCCO, referring to deportees. "We have to bring a moral consciousness not only to members of Congress but to the communities."
It was clear from the meeting that the primary targets of the campaign will be members of the Orange County congressional delegation, specifically Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and John Campbell (R-Irvine). Both have previously taken tough stances on the issue but have recently shown a willingness to talk about reform, Perez said.
"Right-wing folks used to talk about 'illegal aliens,' " Perez said. "Now I'm not hearing those words."
During the meeting, Perez spoke only in general terms about what immigration reform should be, but others laid out specific demands.
"It is not acceptable for people who have been here for 20 or 30 years to go to the end of the line," said Jesus Cortez of the OC Dream Team. "We want citizenship, and we want it in less than five years."
But Perez said that for these demands to be taken seriously, activists must go beyond simply preaching to like-minded members of their communities.
"We have to get out of our comfort zones and talk to people we are not used to talking to," he said.
Voice of OC Youth Media fellows Nelson Alonso and Daniel Garcia contributed to this report.
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