Two months before President-elect Donald J. Trump takes over the White House and carries out his campaign promises, a coalition of “bibles, badges and business” has launched a campaign “to educate” the incoming administration on immigration reform in hopes that criminal immigrants will be targeted and not those who are contributing to this country.
“We do not support the criminal alien. I don’t care who that criminal person is. If they’re bad, they need to go,” said Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League at a Nov. 22 press conference to launch California Leadership for a New American Economy Organization.
“The people who are working, paying their taxes, Social Security, those are the people we want to keep,” said Cunha.
The coalition of conservative, business and community leaders is one of a dozen statewide groups that will ask the Trump administration for a “responsible solution to the country’s broken immigration system that secures the border, grows the economy, and recognizes that America cannot and should not engage in mass deportations of millions of productive members of society.”
The local coalition – which brought in religious, business and law enforcement leaders – downplayed Trump’s campaign talk of deporting the estimated 11 million undocumented residents, building a wall on the U.S.-México border and making México pay for it.
“I believe we give him a chance,” said former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry, who brought up the broken immigration system during one of his State of the City addresses. “He’s not dictator Trump.
“First of all, (Trump) made it a No. 1 issue in his campaign. I think the common sense aspect of this whole issue is going to prevail. I have a lot of faith in Congress.”
Cunha, Autry and other coalition members believe that Trump will be able to backtrack on most of his immigration proposals and convince a Republican-led Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.
I believe we give him a chance. He’s not dictator Trump. Former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry
“President Obama did executive orders (on immigration), which caused a lot of problems,” said Cunha. “But, we also had the past administration (George W. Bush) that let the immigration thing continue down its bad pathway.”
Cunha said the group is “going to educate” Trump. “We might have a chance.”
Autry and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said they don’t want to see local law enforcement get involved in enforcing immigration law.
“Immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, and federal law enforcement must continue to prioritize apprehending serious criminals and security threats,” said Mims. Those efforts, she said, should not target “contributing members of our communities.”
“Such a process will help undermine criminal enterprises that prey upon undocumented immigrants, including those engaging in human trafficking, drug trafficking, blackmail and fraud,” she added.
Autry said he will not stand for wholesale immigration sweeps in rural communities where undocumented farmworkers are “helping feed the nation.” He focused on the absence of immigration fixes in the 14 years since he raised the subject while mayor.
“I’ve got to fight the battle because I do think about 14 years of people still crossing the border in the back of a coyotes’ pickup truck,” said Autry. “Human trafficking has exploded with young Hispanic girls being sold all over this state and all over this country as a result of illegal immigration that’s a dysfunctional immigration system.”
Autry said the “vast majority of Americans” want a fixed immigration system that includes a secure border, deportation of criminal undocumented immigrants and a pathway to citizenship for those who stay out of trouble.
If federal immigration officials “set up camp at little towns like Mendota and you wait to grab people when they show up for work to go out in the fields to help feed this nation, who have done their part to make this country great, and you load them in the back of a van and break up families and send them home, you’re going to have to send me too. You’re going to put ’cuffs on me.
“I did not tolerate that as a mayor. I will not tolerate it now.”
Cunha lashed out against “scare tactics” that have put the immigrant community in fear that they will be deported.
Rev. Gilbert Montelongo, a board member of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council, said the nation needs to know about the contributions being made by the immigrant community.
“I think the undocumented workers are people who love America,” said Montelongo.