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Yes, Rep. Sherman, We DO Want to Get Into This: Rep. Berman IS the Author of the DREAM Act

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The contentious race between 14-term Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA) and 8-term Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) in California’s 30th congressional district took a bizarre turn yesterday, as Rep. Sherman physically confronted Rep. Berman and questioned his leadership role in drafting the DREAM Act.  As video documents, Rep. Sherman put his arm around Rep. Berman, and said: “Do you want to get into this?” in an aggressive manner.

Well, with respect to Rep. Sherman’s claims on leadership around immigration issues and the DREAM Act, leaders from California and national immigration organizations responded today with a resounding “yes, we do want to get into this.”  On a conference call with reporters, California leaders, DREAMers, and national immigration advocates talked about Rep. Berman’s long history of championing immigrant rights behind the scenes and his tireless advocacy on behalf of the DREAM Act, AgJOBs, and numerous other immigration reforms in Congress.

While Rep. Sherman has a generally pro-immigration voting record, his attempts to diminish Rep. Berman’s leadership on the issue or to portray himself as an equal to Rep. Berman on immigration just don’t wash.  No less an authority than Rep. Luis Gutierrez issued a statement today, stating:

It is not a matter of debate that Rep. Howard Berman is the author of the DREAM Act. . . .  When I am in Los Angeles next week campaigning for Howard Berman’s reelection, I will tell everyone that I support Howard Berman because of his authorship of the DREAM Act and the crucial, leadership role Howard Berman has played in every major piece of immigration legislation under consideration in the House.  Howard is our champion.

On the press call today Angelica Salas, Board Chair of CHIRLA Action Fund based in Los Angeles said:

Representative Sherman has not voted the wrong way, but he rarely engages directly with the Latino community in order to speak up on their issues.  Rep. Berman, however, has been a leader in speaking to the needs of the youth in the San Fernando Valley, and in so doing giving a voice to immigrant youth throughout the nation. For decades, he has met with them and heard their stories, heard their frustration at being unable to achieve their dreams, despite their skills, capacities and passions, and he has taken action on behalf of them and their parents, starting with the original Student Adjustment Act. When President Obama granted deferred action to DREAMers this summer, it was the culmination of the work Rep. Berman has been doing throughout his career.  He is a person who doesn’t just say he’s going to do the right thing, but who actually takes action, and has made sure that every part of his capacity and leadership is moved to help the Latino and immigrant community of the San Fernando Valley.

Rep. Berman wrote the original DREAM Act in 2001 after meeting an undocumented honors student who could not go to college because she didn’t qualify for financial aid.  The Congressman was so moved by her situation that he wrote a bill to fix it, along with Senator Durbin (D-IL).  Berman reached out to Republican Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah, and the two introduced their bipartisan bill in the House in May 2001.  The Senate version was introduced in August 2001.

Javiera Infante, a DREAM leader from the San Fernando Valley, said:

For as long as I have been involved with the DREAM Act, the only name familiar to me has been Howard Berman’s name, when it comes to the fight for student rights in the Valley.  It’s appalling to think that Rep. Sherman called Congressman Berman to a physical fight.  On behalf of youth in the Valley, I want to say that we continue to support Congressman Berman and the work he’s done in the immigration fight.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

Howard Berman is one of the greatest champions of immigrants and immigration reform the U.S. Congress has ever seen.  He enjoys the support of those who have worked with him for over 30 years on behalf of immigrants and immigrant families.  While Berman often let others’ names come first on the bill—for example, his Republican allies—he was the true author and driver behind this legislation.  It was all part of his strategy to pass the bill.  So while Berman’s essential role may be less known to the media, it’s well-known to those who were in the trenches with him.”

Rep. Berman’s advocacy on behalf of immigrants is not limited to the DREAM Act.  One of his most crucial roles was in brokering the historic AgJOBS deal with Senator Ted Kennedy, the United Farm Workers, and agriculture industry leaders.  The bill would legalize undocumented farm workers in exchange for certain visa reforms sought by growers.  In an industry known for abuse and exploitation, the fact that Berman and Kennedy brought these interests together around a common platform is remarkable.  Berman introduced multiple AgJOBS bills (including in 20032005, and 2007) and successfully courted numerous Republican cosponsors in a tireless effort to pass it.  Unfortunately, the bill has not yet gotten enough backing from Republicans, but Berman’s work on this bill has been nothing short of heroic.

In fact, Berman has been a champion of farm workers since before his days in Congress.  As an Assemblyman in California, Berman was the chief sponsor and negotiator of the state’s historic Agricultural Labor Relations Act– the first legislation in the nation to provide United Farm Workers (UFW) the right to organize on behalf of migrant farm workers.

Efrain Trujillo, an organizer with the United Farm Workers, explained:

All of us involved in the Farm Worker Movement want to tell Brad Sherman that we were shocked by his physical display of violence and want to remind him of Cesar Chavez’s lifelong commitment to nonviolent civil discourse.  Howard Berman is important to the United Farm Workers because since the beginning he has been fighting for workers’ rights and immigrant rights.  As an Assemblymember, Howard Berman worked directly with César Chávez and Dolores Huerta to pass the critical legislation that gave farm workers collective bargaining rights in California.  In the mid-eighties as a congressman, he partnered with the United Farm Workers to pass legislation that granted a path to citizenship to undocumented farm workers and others.  More recently, Howard co-authored and introduced the bipartisan AgJOBS bill.

Cesar VargasManaging Partner of DRM Action Coalition, concluded:

As DREAMers we’re not fighting for a party or a candidate, we’re fighting for true supporters. It’s not enough to cast a vote, it’s not enough to voice your support. Howard Berman has set the standard of what it means to lead on the DREAM Act. I was in the House chamber the day the DREAM Act was voted on and I remember him defending the DREAM Act when Rep. Lamar Smith was calling us criminals.  That was really incredible.  Howard Berman’s leadership has involved action and determination to support immigrant youth around the country.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos and Calitics.

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