The Rio Grande Valley’s coalition of immigrant advocacy groups will promote a human rights-based agenda for the upcoming legislative session.
Only two years after the Valley’s Equal Voice Network spent much of their time lobbying against immigration-related bills, the coalition is shifting its strategy to talk to legislators about how the stringent proposals of the past affect immigrants’ ability to live a “dignified life.” The group plans to push for legislation to strengthen the Texas Human Rights Commission, protect undocumented students’ access to in-state tuition at the state’s universities and provide ways for immigrants to receive driver’s licenses.
With the political climate changing in the fight over immigration, the state’s upcoming legislative session is an opportunity to “work toward an agenda that will support all of us,” said John Michael Torres, a spokesman for the San Juan-based La Union del Pueblo Entero.
“Politicians that in the past have used anti-immigrant rhetoric to win elections aren’t going to have that opportunity anymore,” he said Monday at a rally for the United Nations’ Human Rights Day. “We want to start having a pro human rights agenda to be on the offensive.”
The human rights-based agenda unveiled Monday was developed through a statewide campaign led by the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance. The group hosted conventions throughout the state — attended by a range of participants from colonia residents and immigrants to police department and county representatives — to build a base of principles.
The group will finalize the human rights agenda in February before meeting with some state legislators to promote it.
The group’s platform promotes the right to basic needs: jobs with wages that can provide adequate housing; immigration reform that allows them to move or stay in one place; a quality education, and accessible and affordable health care.
The platform asks politicians to consider how legislation directly affects individuals, said Ramona Casas, a community activist with A Resource in Serving Equality, an immigrant advocacy group better known as ARISE.
“It doesn’t matter where we come from,” Casas said. “We bring gifts and talents to this nation.”
The Valley’s immigrant advocacy organizations joined a statewide group in 2011 that opposed a flurry of anti-immigration bills filed by state legislators. Most of the group’s opposition was for the controversial sanctuary cities bill that prohibited police departments from blocking their officers from enforcing immigration.
The sanctuary cities bill and many other hard-line measures aimed at illegal immigrants failed to pass.
But the results of November’s election — one in which Hispanics overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama — has led many in the GOP to soften their stance on immigration. With the next legislative session set to begin next month, fewer stringent immigration bills have been filed than at this point two years ago, allowing the coalition to build their own wish list.
Among other concerns, the group wants legislation to provide undocumented immigrants a way to receive driver’s licenses. It’s also pushing for a bill that would allow immigrants to document abuses by law enforcement agencies with the Texas Human Rights Commission. And the group wants to preserve current laws providing in-state tuition to undocumented students who graduate from Texas high schools.
Many issues for immigrants living in this country begin with human rights, said Martha Sanchez, a community organizer with LUPE.
“When we notice that human rights are not being upheld, what is our commitment to work for human rights?” she said. “We believe that we have the right to human rights,” she said. “If we do, what are we going to do about it?”
Jared Janes covers Hidalgo County government, Edinburg and legislative issues for The Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4424.
Follow Jared Janes on Twitter: @moncounty