Immigration reform and immigrants’ rights campaigns don’t get much publicity in Washington State, mainly due to the fact that the Latino/a community throughout the state is fairly small in comparison to states such as Arizona and California. However, there are still some major battles occurring in the Washington State Legislature over immigration rights that I think are important to learn about. Some of the bills currently being advocated are groundbreaking and would be huge breakthroughs for Latino/a families across the state.
There are two major bills currently in some stage of the legislative process in Washington State. One of the more commonly talked about bills is the Washington State DREAM Act, a derivative of the Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act which was first proposed in the U.S. Senate in 2001. The basic premise of the DREAM Act is that it would grant citizenship and rights to undocumented youth who have graduated from a U.S. university. It has clear benefits for society at large and its recipients are part of a group of educated and skilled workers whose productive value is obvious. For these reasons, the DREAM Act is one of the major components of immigration advocacy movements across the country.
But college-educated undocumented youth are not the only immigrants in Washington State, and it could be argued that the nationwide focus on the DREAM Act by immigration activists ignores some of the most vulnerable populations within the immigrant community. The vast majority of undocumented people are domestic workers such as house cleaners and caregivers, farmworkers, and manual laborers. These are workers who, even if they had full citizenship status and white skin, would still face hardships due to low wages, lack of legal protections and representation, and inherently classist attitudes towards “blue collar” workers. For this reason, I think it is important to discuss another bill currently going through the legislative process in Washington State: the TRUST Act, which would serve the most marginalized within the immigrant community.
The Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act is a bill in the Washington State legislature, currently in committee, that would address some of the harmful implications of the federal government’s Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. Currently due to this program, if an undocumented person interacts with the police in any capacity, even to provide witness testimony or to report a crime, they are subjected to scrutiny and can be detained and sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for immediate deportation, separated from their families and their lives ruined. For this reason, undocumented people feel a strong distrust of police officers and law enforcement and many crimes go unreported because of programs like S-Comm. The TRUST Act aims to provide safeguards that prevent the scrutiny, detainment, and deportation of undocumented immigrants who report crimes, are witnesses to crimes, and those who commit minor, non-violent offenses. This will increase trust between undocumented people and law enforcement, allowing undocumented people to speak out about crimes and in general make communities safer.
CASA Latina, the organization I work with, is currently doing strong advocacy for the TRUST Act. We have strong communication with the bill’s sponsor in the legislature, who is one of our donors, and we recently had a campaign to send emails to him and the people in the bill’s committee, urging immediate procession to a formal hearing to get the bill out of committee and onto the floor. I think it is really important that there are organizations like CASA Latina willing to stand on the side of people who might otherwise be abandoned by society. It is easy to support things like the DREAM Act, and bills like the DREAM Act are extremely important steps towards a culture that is more accepting of immigrants. But I am very proud that we are also willing to support and advocate for the TRUST Act, which will serve a much larger percentage of the undocumented population and help foster a safer environment for undocumented people.
UPDATE: Senate Bill 6523 is passed, becoming the first law to pass the Legislature in 2014. Read more: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022939342_studentaidxml.html
-KC Bridges, Shinnyo-En Fellow