Helping the 99 percent -- with less

La Raza Centro Legal fights to address the issues raised by Occupy, and it needs support

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OPINION La Raza Centro Legal, an organization central to the empowerment of San Francisco's low-wage immigrant workers, finds common cause with the Occupy movement during a time when our programs combining legal services and worker organizing are in jeopardy. Our hour of need falls within a window of tough times, but heightened political awareness, and we are calling out to the community to join us in solidarity as members of the 99 percent.

La Raza's resonance with Occupy shows on a bilingual sign printed for the movement. Under a day laborer's face, the sign reads, "We are the 99 percent. I'm blamed for the economic crisis, but what about the Wall Street banks?" Immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in government services, generate revenue exceeding the services they receive, subsidize the Social Security system, and provide labor that supports entire industries.

Contrary to the red herring propaganda generated by the 1 percent, the scapegoated low-wage immigrant worker is not the cause of the financial crisis in the United States. Occupy has resuscitated public discourse with the plain facts of shocking economic inequity and the corruption of our democracy. Immigration debate can now rise to the surface after nearly drowning in the lies that spawned the recent legal abominations in Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia.

In the current political and economic climate, immigrant rights organizations face an intractable three-pronged challenge: dangerous policies born of anti-immigrant zeal, a crushing economic crisis that disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color, and dwindling funds from the government and foundations that used to support our work. The Obama administration's Orwellian-named "Secure Communities" deportation program creates an unprecedented stream of profits for privately contracted immigration detention facilities rife with human rights abuses. At the same time, employers take advantage of job scarcity to exploit low-wage immigrant workers. On the same days that our advocacy and services are needed more than ever, we've receive news that a grant that we depend on will not be renewed in the coming year.

Just like so many other members of the 99 percent, La Raza Centro Legal is in financial crisis. If the organization cannot find immediate support, some of La Raza's programs that help so many people in the immigrant community could die. If La Raza is diminished, who will reunite a family unjustly torn apart, or take an employer to task for ripping off a day laborer so that the worker can feed his children? Who will organize the community so that, through La Raza's Day Labor Program and Women's Collective, low-wage immigrant workers can find their voice and build their own innate capacity for leadership in their community?

We aren't giving up. Because the Occupy movement has pushed into public consciousness the well-established but long-ignored truth of how the status quo is hurting us all, it offers incredible hope. An October 20 community meeting kicked off a new fundraising drive for La Raza. San Franciscans and the city must join us in solidarity to help us find ways to support community nonprofits in declining economies and increasing civil rights abuses — which is when they are needed most.

Kate Hegé and Kate Deeny work in the Workers' Rights Program at La Raza Centro Legal. For more information about how to help, contact Genevie Gallegos, Executive Director of La Raza Centro Legal at Genevie@lrcl.org.

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