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Immigration Advocate María Elena Durazo on Obama’s Executive Order




María Elena Durazo speaks at a 2013 rally.
Photo from Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO

Nearly a decade ago, L.A. labor leader María Elena Durazo organized the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a national caravan that brought immigrants and their supporters around the country to Washington, D.C., to push for immigration reform. In the ensuing years, there has been much talk but no action on extending legal protections to the country’s millions of undocumented immigrants.

All that changed yesterday, when President Barack Obama announced that he would sign an executive order granting temporary protection to as many as 5 million immigrants. Advocates were elated, while critics sharpened their knives and prepared for a PR counteroffensive.

Capital & Main spoke by phone with Ms. Durazo this morning shortly after she arrived in Las Vegas to join the President as he signs the executive order into law.


Capital & Main: What do you think of President Obama’s executive order granting temporary protection to undocumented immigrants?

María Elena Durazo: I am very appreciative that he responded to the movement across the country. Over the last few years there have been fasts and civil disobedience, there have been tens of thousands of phone calls and letters, delegations to Congress. I am really glad that the president is taking this action despite this hatred by the Republicans. I think it’s a great next step, 4 to 5 million could be eligible. It’s the kind of relief that we were asking him to do. We know the Republicans have blocked true comprehensive immigration reform. We have to continue to press for permanent action.

C&M: Were you hoping it would go farther?

Durazo: There are limits to what he can do, we want it to stand. I believe it is strong and it will stand and the American people will back him up.

C&M: Is there any hope of passing comprehensive immigration reform with the current Congress?

Durazo: At this point I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to push for it. I think it’s outrageous; all they do is block and block. They have never accepted the invitation to do something on their own. The leadership of the Republican Party refuses to do anything, but as organizers we are going to keep on pushing.

C&M: Obama has been harshly criticized for deporting large numbers of immigrants – does this change his legacy on immigration?

Durazo: Absolutely. It doesn’t erase the deportations that did happen, but it certainly moves us forward because for three years, 4 to 5 million people will not only not have the fear of deportation but will have access to work permits. That’s a very significant number. In workplaces, employers won’t be able to threaten them with deportation. Now that we passed Prop. 47, some individuals who had felonies on their record will be able to drop them to misdemeanors, which makes them eligible for temporary legalization. So it really is very comprehensive.

C&M: What will you be doing in your new role as vice president of immigration and civil rights for the hotel workers union?

Durazo: I will be working to create more opportunities for immigrants, whether they are documented or not, to have the protection of a union contract, and of course continue to fight against workplace abuses – wage theft, sexual harassment – and be a part of a bigger movement. We are not going to back down or slow down.

C&M: What is the single most important thing for advocates of immigration reform to do right now?

Durazo: Civic engagement, voter registration, citizenship, strengthen the coalition with the African-American vote, the women’s vote. Republicans need to see that they will never be able to recover as far as getting the Latino vote.

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