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Immigrants And Workers Protest “Politics Of Hate” Outside GOP Debate At Reagan Library

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Hundreds of immigrants, workers, and community members gathered outside the site of the second Republican presidential debate in California this week with a message for the candidates set to take the stage that night: hate doesn’t belong in our state.

CHIRLA Action Fund, SEIU United Service Workers West, and partner organizations led the protest outside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Wednesday, where demonstrators called out GOP presidential candidates’ hateful and increasingly violent rhetoric and issued powerful reminders that immigrant workers help give Simi Valley – and the entire state, for that matter – its strength. Demonstrators held signs reading “Immigrants Welcome Here,” “Ronald Reagan Signed Amnesty,” “No Hate in Our State,” and “Path to Citizenship is the Answer.”

“Immigrants have worked hard for decades to build a welcoming, supportive California – setting an example for other states, some of which are [driven] by politics of hate,” said Fatima Flores-Lagunas, CHIRLA Action Fund Political Director. “In 2024, we will not let Republican candidates tarnish what we have worked so hard to build.”

“Black, brown & immigrant workers—workers of every race and immigration status, in every state including California—keep this country fed, clean, safe, and healthy,” tweeted SEIU. “Hey MAGA Republicans, WORKERS will decide this election!” More than five million essential workers in the U.S. are undocumented and have been crucial to the nation’s ongoing COVID-19 recovery, FWD.us said in 2020.

“These frontline workers could not perform their essential jobs from home, and many have been hospitalized; thousands have died,” FWD.us said. “Despite this, undocumented immigrants have continued to work on the front lines, delivering home healthcare services, cleaning medical facilities, building temporary hospitals and clinics, and other essential services.”

“A reminder to #Republicans that they are debating in a state AND city where immigrants make up a large portion of the population,” CHIRLA Action Fund tweeted. “Immigrants make this country GREAT!” CHIRLA Action Fund noted that nearly 18% of Simi Valley’s population is foreign-born. Across California, immigrant-led households contributed $38.9 billion in state and local taxes in 2018, according to the American Immigration Council. In fact, if California were a nation, its economy would be the fifth largest in the world.

“It was here at the Ronald Reagan Library that symbolizes what a Republican can do, if they wanted to, in terms of comprehensive immigration reform,” SEIU United Service Workers West Secretary-Treasurer Alejandra Valles told ABC7 News. 

In 1986, Reagan signed legislation that legalized nearly three million undocumented immigrants. The Republican also took the kind of executive action on immigration that GOP attorneys general now commonly seek to block through the anti-immigrant judicial pipeline. One of Reagan’s most famous addresses spoke of a shining city on a hill, strengthened by its immigrants. But when questioned on his record during the debate, candidates pivoted and instead spread disinformation and platformed the kind of incendiary rhetoric criticized by workers just outside the building.

“Many of these immigrant janitors have gotten amnesty, because of policies in the ’80s and ’90s,” Valles continued to ABC7 News, “but Republicans now have doubled down on their anti-immigrant hate and rhetoric.”

Anti-immigrant attacks were a major factor in the trajectory that took California from a GOP bastion to a Democratic stronghold beginning in the mid-1990s. Proposition 187, the wildly anti-immigrant measure that would have blocked undocumented immigrants from health care, public education, and other social services, has been credited with pushing Latinos away from the state GOP and turning what was once a swing state solidly blue. 

The proposition’s main backer, former Governor Pete Wilson, is such a toxic figure that when Meg Whitman chose him to manage her 2010 gubernatorial run, she apologized for Prop. 187. It didn’t work (and it probably didn’t help that she was trying to have it both ways on immigration, by trying to look tough while also employing an undocumented housekeeper). GOP candidates hopeful for future relevance would be smart to heed California’s lessons – and the demands of demonstrators who rallied outside the Reagan Library.

“Though the Republican candidates’ comments on immigration last night were not surprising, none of it should be normalized or viewed as anything but an extreme, cruel, and unworkable reflection of the continued descent of the GOP,” America’s Voice Executive Director Vanessa Cárdenas said. “That the debate took place in Ronald Reagan’s presidential library – the same Republican President who spoke of the ‘shining city on the hill’ and enacted laws providing millions of immigrants a path to citizenship in 1986 – added a depressing cloud to the related discussion.”