Immigrant rights advocates rallied at San Francisco City Hall today to call for comprehensive federal immigration reform, an end to federal raids and audits of businesses that employ undocumented workers, and the repeal of controversial new legislation in Arizona.
Several San Francisco supervisors spoke at the noontime rally, along with immigration and labor leaders, to a large, vocal crowd.
Supervisor David Campos said he would, with the support of several others supervisors, introduce two pieces of legislation Tuesday.
One resolution calls for the U.S. Congress and President Obama to pass immigration reform granting permanent resident status to undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. and cracking down on businesses that violate immigration and labor laws. It also calls for an end to federal immigration audits of San Francisco businesses.
A second resolution will call for a boycott of the state of Arizona and Arizona-based businesses, in response to new legislation signed by Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday that makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally.
The controversial law also makes the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and requires police officers to question those they suspect are illegal immigrants.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued a statement this morning calling the law “draconian.”
He offered the services of his office to help terminate contracts between San Francisco and Arizona or businesses based there, and to assist in any legal challenges to the law.
“Arizona has charted an ominous legal course that puts extremist politics before public safety and betrays our most deeply held American values,” Herrera said.
Herrera, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia, noted that civil rights groups have assailed the legislation as inviting harassment and discrimination against Latinos, whether they are U.S. citizens or not.
The Asian Law Caucus, based in San Francisco, released a statement this morning condemning the new law.
“This law will level untold damage on the state’s immigrant communities,” said Titi Liu, executive director of the caucus. “Arizona’s decision legalizes racial profiling by law enforcement and moves our entire country in the wrong direction.”
Campos said that if the Arizona law is implemented, “it will essentially be a crime to be a Latino in that state.”
“We left authoritarian, dictatorship countries to avoid that kind of life,” said Campos, who immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala.
Olga Miranda, president of Service Employees International Union Local 87, which represents janitors in San Francisco, said 475 unionized janitors in San Francisco were notified in March that their employers were being audited by the federal government.
They are being asked to provide proof of citizenship by today, and face the threat of being fired, she said.
Campos called the audits “essentially electronic raids,” saying they were “targeting employers for the purpose of harassing employees.”
“In these tough economic times, we should be trying to promote labor, promote work,” Campos said.
Supervisors John Avalos, Eric Mar, Bevan Dufty and David Chiu also attended today’s rally.
Across the street, two men held an enormous sign, “Secure Our Borders.”
One of the men, 58-year-old Owen Jones, of Fremont, identified himself as a member of the “Golden Gate Minutemen.”
Jones, a carpenter for 38 years, said he was laid off in October. He says he wasn’t able to compete with undocumented workers who accept much lower wages and are eagerly snapped up by employers.
“I’m a worker, I’m an American, and I want to feed my family,” he said, adding that he applauds the new Arizona law.
“Everybody wants to paint you as a racist,” he said. Jones said he worked alongside undocumented immigrants for years.
“These are good people,” he said. “They’re struggling like anybody else.”
But, he added, “I’ve played by the rules, and I’m getting screwed by playing by the rules.”
Instead of granting undocumented immigrants immediate permanent resident status, Jones argued for the federal government to strictly enforce the border and “get dog-ass hard” on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
If that works, Jones said, “Then I’d say, OK, let’s give these guys amnesty.”