From La Unified School District To The U. S. Senate: Students Spread Democracy and Spur Positive Immigration Reforms

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Analysis linking covering the participation of Los Angeles Area Students in reform of immigration laws.

Beginning with March 23, 2006 walkout of some 36,000 students in the Los Angeles Area students have walked out and demanded compassionate immigration reform. These students taught themselves and the country a fundamental lesson of democracy and obtained surprising results, positive and compassionate immigration legislation in the United States Senate.

The public outcry began in Los Angeles areas schools with thousands of students leaving school in an organized walkout on Friday, March 23, 2006. This was a precursor to the following Saturday’s massive 500,000 person march in downtown Los Angeles, surrounding City Hall and stretching as far as the USCIS building on 300 North Los Angeles Street. These marchers had conviction and concern for family members, friends or relatives with immigration needs and the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church for whom Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has been an outspoken critic of proposed immigration legislation.

The list of cities affected by work stoppages, walkouts and demonstrations include San Diego, California, Reno Nevada , Phoenix Arizona, Denver Colorado, Atlanta Georgia and others. There has been a lot of speculation on how these efforts were organized, Spanish language radio, the airing of an HBO movie “walkout” covering 1960’s era demonstrations, or something unique to our younger generation… text messaging in a startling overnight effort… as reported in the Los Angeles Times.

The flash point for these demonstrations was not the positive suggestions of President George Bush for guest worker legislation, but the efforts to label immigration violations as criminal offenses, militarize the southern border with Mexico, and setting significant penalties for providing aid or employment to undocumented aliens. At Saturday’s demonstration, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke out on behalf of immigrants and their contributions to our economy and nation as a whole.

Following these dramatic yet peaceful demonstrations, a United States Senate Subcommittee passed and submitted to Congress a version of the McCaine/Kennedy Secure America Act which promises border controls as well as a 6 year plan to legalize undocumented aliens present in the United States, and allocate additional 400,000 immigrant visas. Following further debate and wrangling the Senate will actually vote on a second proposal introduced by Senator Bill Frist and later amended by Senators Hagel and Martinez. Senators Phil Spector, John McCain and Edward Kennedy along with other Senators formed a bipartisan group that announced the bill which will come to a vote this week.

Reportedly, the proposed bill will provide undocumented workers a path to lawful employment and citizenship if they could provide proof that they have been in the country for five years. Students and the other demonstrators should reflect on the positive results of their public speech, their outpouring of support has brought change to immigration where there has been no meaningful developments in the past 10 years.

The massive public demonstrations on behalf of fair immigration reform brought important Republican Senators to the table, namely Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mike DeWine of Ohio. National leadership for both parties saw this nationwide outpouring of support on this emotional topic as an election year issue that could decide the fate of tight races, but more importantly as happened in California after the drive to enact Proposition 187 could decide the long term prospects of political parties as well.

The process continues the Senate will have to harmonize its legislation with harsher measures passed by the House of Representatives. The public has spoken but the fate of immigration reform is still in the hands of policy makers and legislative process.

The students of Los Angeles Unified School District learned an object lesson in Democracy, not with textbooks but through participation in the process and use of our most fundamental of rights, free speech and of course cell phones.

Robert J. DuPont is an attorney with the law firm of Wilner & O'Reilly, managing its Beverly Hills Office. Mr. DuPont is admitted to the California Supreme Court, and Federal District Courts in the Central and Northern Districts of California as well as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. DuPont has successfully prosecuted several immigration cases through the Federal District Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which have resulted in positive changes to regulations, policies and practices of the Immigration Service. He currently assists clients seeking to immigrate through family petitions, employment, extraordinary ability in the arts, athletics, sciences and entertainment. Mr. DuPont is well known in the legal community for his work compelling action on delayed cases or wrongfully denied immigration cases in the U.S. District Court

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Robert Dupont