By Diego Loera & Rula Al-Nasrawi
One of the most significant groups that helped make this successful May Day a reality was the coalition Movement for Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA).
MIRA was co-founded as a collaborative effort between a number of organizations, including the Brown Berets, Student-Worker Coalition for Justice (SWCJ), and Students Informing Now (SIN) in 2006. The coalition’s focus is to raise awareness on issues like immigration and immigrant workers’ rights for better living conditions.
Neidi Dominguez, a third-year community studies major at UC Santa Cruz and member of Students Informing Now and MIRA, created a film documenting her struggles throughout her upbringing for the Reel Works Film Festival.
“I don’t want them to put me on a pedestal, because it’s not like that,” Dominguez said. “The film was made to educate people. But if other people don’t do anything after watching the movie, then that’s disempowering.”
Lupe Zamora, member of the Brown Berets organization, saw Dominguez’s film and the potential impact it could have had on audience members that are not familiar with issues that pertain to May Day.
“There are people who come to school and just don’t get involved with anything,” Zamora said. “Neidi’s experience can be like a wake up call.”
MIRA originated in response to the bill HR 4437 in 2006, also known as the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act.
Dominguez has been familiar with issues concerning immigration all her life, because she grew up within an organization called Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA) that focused on helping immigrants.
According to Dominguez, she was always interested in issues surrounding immigrants’ rights because her mother was part of IDEPSCA; so before she came to school, she knew about HR 4437 and its effects on undocumented people.
However, when she came to the university, she was surprised that nobody was aware of the bill, so she began to educate people about its effects on undocumented people and on the groups that help them in any way. For Dominguez, the bill was not just a normal piece of legislation, it was something that targeted people and affected their lives.
“The bill would punish and criminalize those that help undocumented workers,” Dominguez said.
According to Dominguez, the government would also funnel taxpayers’ money toward building a 700-mile-long fence across the U.S.-Mexican border.
In response to the bill, many people protested throughout the United States against the treatment of undocumented people. During 2006, in solidarity with the nationwide protests, Dominguez and her friends, now all members of SIN, decided to collaborate with the Brown Berets to organize a march of their own on March 17.
SIN and the Brown Berets’ march for immigrant’s right received attention from different organizations within and outside UCSC and spurred the creation of MIRA. The group then organized the May Day march to express their solidarity as a diverse coalition. Congress eventually ignored the HR 4437 bill; however, MIRA is still working to educate students and community members about workers’ issues.
SIN has recently focused on raising awareness about the AB540 bill, which allows students to pay in-state tuition if they went to high school and graduated from high school in California. While this bill helps many students who moved out of California after high school and many undocumented students who wish to attend university, it denies undocumented students the right to receive financial aid.
Alma Sifuentes is the associate vice chancellor and dean of students for UC Santa Cruz. “Undocumented students who go to a UC do not receive financial aid,” Sifuentes said. “That’s why it’s harder for them to continue studying at a university when they have to depend on money from private scholarships or from family members.”
While criticizing the AB540 bill, SIN has advocated the Dream Act bill, which would give undocumented people additional rights, including conditional residency for six years upon graduating from a two-year or four-year college, and the opportunity to acquire legal residency afterwards. If passed, the bill would give hope to undocumented students in high schools, as it would remove from their heads the idea of not aspiring for a university experience, and would bring to them a sense of empowerment.
Mariella Saba, a member of SIN and a third-year student, explained that MIRA, although it comprises organizations with different emphases, serves as a space where these different groups can come together and collaborate in favor of immigrants’ and workers’ rights.
“It’s a good space to support and to collaborate among organizations who may have separate missions but similar visions,” Saba said.
Laura Barringer, a member of SWCJ and MIRA, as well as an intern for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), has always been supportive of immigrant rights movements, and also believes MIRA is a unique group.
“MIRA is special because of the different groups and the different directions they all have,” Barringer said.
As successful as 2006 was for the coalition, 2007 was not as effective in getting the crowd motivated to support the march.
Dominguez feels that because the bill did not pass in Congress, the support for marches decreased.
“Bringing people was harder because there was less urgency,” Dominguez said.
MIRA still faces the obstacle of maintaining the coalition’s cohesiveness due to the wide margin of followers from neighboring cities.
“It’s hard to maintain [the coalition] because some groups are from Watsonville,” Dominguez said. “So they aren’t related to the UCSC student community.”
Zamora and Dominguez hope that MIRA will continue to be a stable group long after they leave UCSC. In the future, Dominguez hopes to make a community forum, and establishing legal clinics to help immigrants.
This year’s rally for May Day brought about 150 people from local Santa Cruz community groups in solidarity with MIRA in an effort to support the workers and their right for better wages. The success of this march keeps members like Dominguez believing that their cause is being heard.
“The images they get [from the march] makes people wonder why [we] are marching,” Dominguez said. “If we didn’t have this march, then it would be easy for me to think that there is no hope.”
Barringer commented on the workers’ role in preserving and maintaining the UCSC academic environment.
“Workers are the people that are feeding you food,” Barringer said. “They are the backbone of the university. So if they are receiving poverty wages, and they’re understaffed, then the quality of their work will be affected.”