Napa Latinos cautious about chances for immigration reform

Thousands of residents await a path to citizenship
2013-02-02T16:00:00Z 2013-02-02T20:22:36Z Napa Latinos cautious about chances for immigration reformPETER JENSEN Napa Valley Register
February 02, 2013 4:00 pm  • 

To Napa County resident Frances Ortiz-Chavez, the growing Latino population in the U.S. is becoming an ever-more influential voice for federal immigration reform, and last week offered proof that elected officials in Washington, D.C., are listening.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators unveiled a blueprint of policy proposals on immigration reform, including pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, tougher border security and stricter enforcement on employers who hire undocumented workers, and easing the process for legal immigration.

President Barack Obama followed with his own, similar policy proposals in a speech on Tuesday.

Ortiz-Chavez and other advocates for immigration reform in Napa County spoke last week of having cautious optimism that the reform proposals could be accomplished.

If the proposals become law, they figure to have a sweeping impact locally. Napa County had an immigrant population of 32,000 in 2010, or almost a quarter of its total population of about 137,000 people, according to a 2012 Migration Policy Institute study funded by the Napa Valley Community Foundation.

Estimates of those living illegally in the county vary. A 2011 study from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California estimated that 16,000 undocumented immigrants were living in Napa County, based on 2008 figures. The Migration Policy Institute study estimated 10,000 to 11,000 people from 2006 to 2008.

Ortiz-Chavez, the center director for Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center in Napa, said the reaction in Napa County has been guarded, as multiple immigration reform packages have failed in Congress in the past several decades. She said she was speaking as a 40-year member of the Mexican-American community in Napa County.  

“As far as the need for it, I would say people are excited,” Ortiz-Chavez said. “But they don’t want to get overly excited because this has come up before. It’s exciting the conversation is taking place. People have been waiting for it.”

The Latino population is the fastest-growing demographic in Napa County; the Migration Policy Institute study reported that this population grew from 15,000 people in 1990 to 44,000 people in 2010, with a little more than half native-born.

Seeing this demographic shift in Napa County, and how similar trends have swept across California and other U.S. states, Ortiz-Chavez said it amounts to a significant electoral voice.

“I’ve seen the changes in the demographics,” Ortiz-Chavez said. “The Latino population has really grown, and is a voting voice. They’re the ones driving this discussion, not the undocumented.”

It’s also led to an opportunity at accomplishing significant reform in Congress that would have direct benefits locally, said Jose Hernandez, a board member for the Napa County Hispanic Network.

“The path to becoming a citizen is important — it’s important for self-respect,” Hernandez said. “It’s important that those interested in pursuing this are given an opportunity. They want to be part of the mainstream workforce. They’re here — they’re part of the fabric of the community. We need to move forward, so they too can come out of the shadows.”

Father Gordon Kalil of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Napa echoed that sentiment, but said he was wary of how partisan gridlock in Congress could defeat the reform plans’ chances of passage.

“It’s not a desire, it’s a responsibility,” Kalil said. “For me personally, it’s a passion. I see so many people in the shadows. I’m hopeful, always. Where I always become concerned is the lack of ‘do-anything’ in Congress today. It’s sad to me that we as a nation could stand by when there’s so many people that need help.”

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(4) Comments

  1. Berryessa Rich
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    Berryessa Rich - February 03, 2013 10:36 am
    Reform can wait till we have 100% of our able bodied CITIZENS employed
  2. napa1957
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    napa1957 - February 03, 2013 12:10 pm
    BR..that's lovely, but not realistic. We have to work with reality. I do know legal immigrants, who have followed the mandated path to citizenship are not thrilled at an open door, direct path for those who have broken the laws that they had to follow.
    I ask that the NVR give us a follow-up article on the FACTS about the dual proposals up for consideration. They briefly touch on them in the article and make it seem like the bipartisan Senate group and President Obama (definately not bipartisan) are in agreement. I understand the need to get folks who have been here for years, decades even, out of the shadows so they can move forward with their lives. I also understand the rapid growth of the population, as it's simple math. Large families are part of the culture. My father was one of 16, and many of his siblings have 5+. I would hope that we don't return to the blanket "amnesty" that occured in 1986 with no enforceable stop to the continuing illegal flow. We just can't afford it!
  3. gettingreal
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    gettingreal - February 03, 2013 3:30 pm
    Free goods and services are being doled out from our tax dollars and meanwhile 120 billion is being sent "back home". It just doesn't seem right. Get in line!
  4. lionkng
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    lionkng - February 04, 2013 4:35 pm
    We do need to get this under control. Unfortunally Mexico doesn't care much for there people. Thats why they come here and get free medical and welfare. Now it seems that you have to speak spanish to get a job in Napa. Its good to know two as I tell my children learn spanish if you want to work in Califico. Since they don't speak the number one langue in Napa its hard for them to get a job. If you want to live in U.S learn to speak english and do your paper work. Its horrible going to a drive through and ordering but since they donb't speak english they screw it up...Not thier fault its my fault for ordering in english..
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