Rally calls McCarthy to action on immigration

Elizabeth Castillo, Reporter

Local community leaders have varying opinions on the immigration issue, but one position rings clear regardless of political creed: the system is broken.

At the end of August, a group of immigration activists rallied outside the Bakersfield office of Congressman Kevin McCarthy as a call to action.

“The rally was held as part of the ongoing call for Kevin McCarthy to act on immigration reform,” said Bakersfield City Councilman Willie Rivera.

Rivera – who represents Ward 1 of Bakersfield – attended the rally in support of immigration reform. As a leader of Bakersfield, Rivera said he gets calls from undocumented immigrants residing in his ward that are frustrated with the immigration system.

“They don’t know what to do,” he said. “The process has never made sense to them and [they want to become] prosperous, productive citizens of our country.”

The Senate has already passed a bill which grants qualified immigrants a 13-year path to citizenship, however, the House of Representatives has yet to vote on a comprehensive bill discussing immigration reform. Because of his powerful position in Congress, McCarthy’s inaction is the cause of frustration for local advocates of immigration reform.

“McCarthy is the majority leader, and he has the power to bring immigration reform to a vote,” said Rob England, the vice president of the Central Labor Council. “Over a year, he has done nothing for 11 million undocumented immigrants.”

Instead of a comprehensive approach, McCarthy believes the best way to handle immigration reform is a step-by-step process.

“Congressman McCarthy believes there needs to be a step-by-step approach to fix our broken immigration system that starts first with securing our borders,” said spokesman Vince Fong, in a statement released for McCarthy.

Other Bakersfield leaders believe the immigration issue doesn’t call for reform but instead needs enforcement.

“I hate the phrase immigration reform,” said restaurant owner and Bakersfield City Councilman Terry Maxwell.

“Immigration laws are structured so there is a definitive path immigrants have to take toward citizenship,” he said.

Maxwell believes current laws adequately address immigration but need to be enforced properly. He said the United States has the technology to ensure our borders are closed but the government is not handling border control efficiently. Regarding immigrants who are already in the U.S., Maxwell believes they should be granted citizenship without voting rights.

“We need to establish a way that people here can have full citizenship except for voting rights,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell, owner of the local T.L. Maxwell’s Restaurant & Bar, said he’s personally dealt with immigration issues as an employer.

“I had an employee from Canada, and she was having trouble getting her green card,” he said. “I told her ‘I can’t have you work here as a bartender without documentation.’ My whole kitchen staff is Hispanic, but they are here legally and view the process as fair.”

Still, others believe more needs to be done on immigration.

“Immigration reform is progression. It’s change,” said Bakersfield College student and Dolores Huerta Foundation community organizer and trainer Alicia Torres.

Torres has advocated for immigration reform for the past seven months and saw it as an issue in her community.

“I’ve rallied, I’ve protested, I’ve sat as a volunteer arrestee because I’ve seen desperation and the community’s issues are my issues,” said Torres.

Although she’s stood in solidarity with her community, immigration issues also personally affected Torres.

“My stepdad is undocumented. In May of this year his parents were ill, and he went to Mexico. Now, he can’t come back,” she said. “He was our primary breadwinner, and we’re making peace that we won’t see him here at home.”

Torres said she and her mother sought legal help for her stepfather, but his options remain limited.

“Lawyers have suggested waiting until reform has passed,” she said. “His case is interesting and it needs to be dealt with accordingly.”

Torres grew up in Los Angeles but moved to Bakersfield with her family because her stepfather worked for a construction company. Her stepfather led a team of workers – from other cities – assigned to flip houses in Bakersfield because the construction company saw potential for growth in town.

Although Torres is saddened by her family’s situation, she remains optimistic that immigration reform will move forward.

“It’s the warmheartedness of the community that prevails. We’re going to keep doing this and not give up,” she said. “Immigration reform is an important part of my life.”