Statewide Civil Right Summit Focuses on Equal Justice and Immigration Rights
By Hazem Kira

Left to right: Jo Chamberlain, Pete McClosky, and Dr Agha Saeed

Newark, CA: Over a hundred delegates from a rainbow of political, social, and religious organizations gathered at a statewide civil rights’ summit in Newark’s Chandni Restaurant to discuss strategies to reverse the attacks on civil liberties and immigrant rights.
Representatives of about 20 civic groups, including the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People (NAACP), Green Party, Libertarian Party, Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), California Faculty Association (CFA), Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, La Raza Centro Legal, Inc., San Francisco Day Laborer Program, Hayward Demos Democratic Club, Pakistan American Democratic Forum, Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights, and United Muslims of America (UMA) attended the 2007 Civil Rights Summit organized by the California Civil Rights Alliance.
Delegates agreed to work together for fair and equitable immigration policy as well as restoration of civil liberties and human rights for all. Speakers highlighted the lingering effects of modern day racial and labor economic inequalities, deficiencies in the current immigration legislation, and condemned the curtailment of constitutional freedoms of speech, privacy, and due process.
“The increasing threats to constitutional guarantees faced by Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, and growingly Caucasian Americans have created a natural alliance,” said Dr. Agha Saeed, the National Chair of the American Muslim Alliance, a founding member of the coalition.
Overall, this summit was a noteworthy expression of bottom-up planning and activity. However, one could not help notice a few samples of trickle-down-politics as well. Karl Hoffower, who chairs the NAACP Resolution Committee, told the audience that the President of California NAACP has recently introduced a strongly worded resolution in support of Palestinian statehood. Hoffower said that the NAACP president had decided to take this action “after reading former president Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid”.
Jo Chamberlain, a nationally recognized Green Party leader and a co-founder of CCRA introduced the summit as "a multi-religious, ethnic and ideological assembly of people coming together." Summit organizers had structured the event as a strategy primer for the 2008 presidential elections, to create the foundations of a unified strategy to make civil liberties a leading issue on the election agenda.
Since 2001, multi-level coalitions have sprung up to unite the most unlikely of political allies. 2004’s presidential election saw an organized movement towards creating a civil rights bloc vote, where progressives, libertarians, minorities, as well as majority represented organizations coalesced into a noteworthy voting bloc. Since then, these coalitions have gained greater prominence, unity, and a more formal structure.
“The solution,” said the event’s keynote speaker former Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, who has recently joined the Democratic Party, “is to register more people and show candidates on Election Day why our vote can make a difference.”
McCloskey was recognized by the group with its highest honors, the Lifetime Achievement Award, in appreciation of “showing courage of conviction in upholding American ideals, demonstrating total honesty and integrity in dealing with fellow Americans of all religions, colors and creeds, and doing the right thing at the right time and for the right reason while consistently maintaining political integrity.”
"I'm honored,” said McCloskey, “because people facing government harassment and obstruction need representation more than most to have the courage to lead as these people have."
Also recognized by the group, in absentia-- due to recovery from cancer, was former Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Peter Miguel Camejo, who was given the group’s Strategic Thinker Award, for “speaking truth to power, strategizing progressive approaches for the attainment of due process and equal justice, raising consciousness about issues vital to human survival, building multilevel coalitions to help immigrant communities gain inclusion as equals, and providing a role model for those who aspire for politics of dignity and integrity.”
Renee Saucedo, a member of La Raza Centro Legal, who spoke at the first panel titled ”Civil rights and Immigration - Three Perspectives,” said she was with a group of 100 people outside Feinstein's San Francisco home early that morning, protesting her support of the immigration bill.
"We had a protest yesterday in front of her office, and this morning we showed up at her house," Saucedo said. "After about an hour and a half, she came out and told us what the immigration reform bill included, and we said we're here to tell you why we disagree."
Although Feinstein and other supporter claim that this bill would provide a path to legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in America, immigration activists strongly disagree. Saucedo said hat the bill is "an empty promise," and at most, only a few thousand would be able to complete all the steps to legalization.
David Bacon, respected labor journalists with a weekly radio show on KPFA, called for the “restoration of due process rights, equal access to the courts and meaningful judicial review for all immigrants.”
“All legal residents, including newly legalized people, should have the same labor and civil rights as the general population, in accordance with the US Constitution.”
Agreeing with her co-panelists, Evelyn Sanchez called on legislators not to support the comprehensive immigration bill currently in Congress, likening it to the Bracero program which is well known for its gross violation of human rights mandates.
The second panel devoted to “Strategy Building” was addressed by civil rights attorney and activist Eric Vickers and Nativo Lopez, National President of the Mexican American Political Association — a member organization of the CCRA. “The new immigration bill is a modern day form of indentured servitude, merely serving the interests of corporate America,” said Mr. Lopez.
“The essence of the current immigration debate, in fact raging for the past fifteen years, essentially is the management of an ample, but vulnerable, labor supply for corporations, large and small, urban and rural, and on their terms. At the heart of all the proposals this is the bottom line. And, this can be observed in the initiatives submitted by both Republicans and Democrats.”
The surnames of the authors may be different … but the parameters of the deal are within the same ballpark of comprehensive reform... No matter how many times comprehensive is repeated in the press releases of the advocates of this type of ‘reform,’ it will never make it fair, humane, or rational.”
Civil rights attorney Eric Vickers, who spoke alongside Lopez, said that Martin Luther King’s approach of civil disobedience was one method to consider in changing the status quo. Vickers said minorities have to be willing to disrupt the majority’s complacency — like both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X — to gain power in America.
"Can you imagine if a million Hispanics marched on Washington, DC? That's the kind of thing that has to happen to make change," Vickers said.
"Many still are clinging desperately to the status quo or have exaggerated security fears,” Vickers said referring to the USA Patriot Act and other such legislation. "We have to be just as passionate in opposing them and shedding light on their unconstitutional and xenophobic attitude."
The panel on Coalition Building was addressed by Dr. Kim Geron and Dr. Agha Saeed. Dr. Kim Geron, who was representing the California Faculty Association (CFA), argued the UN posits education is a human right, which is currently being systematically dismantled by the present state and federal governments.
Dr. Saeed said the “Latino-Americans and Muslim-Americans are natural allies” because, historically, in the United States any attack on civil liberties has invariably been accompanied by an attack on immigration of Third World people.
For example, “the draconian National Security Act of 1950, introduced by Sen. McCarran, led in 1952 to the Eurocentric and anti-third world McCarran-Walter Immigration Act.” On the other hand, passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 led to first non-racist immigration act of 1965.”
Today, “the passage of the USA PATRIOT ACT has been accompanied by HR 4437, which sought to criminalize 11 million undocumented workers and implicate priests, teachers and social workers who may try to help them exactly the same way as those helping run-away slaves.”
The summit closed with the passing of a resolution, introduced by Hayward Demos Democratic Club’s Harry Scott, which called for fair immigration legislation, closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and repealing the 2006 Military Commissions Act.
“Such events encourage and enshrine public dialogues aimed at building broad-based coalitions which in turn can help restore civil liberties and develop fair and just immigration policies,” Libertarian representative Mark Hinkle said.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.