Heritage conducted citizenship classes and provided immigration services shortly after the passage of the 1986 S.I.A.G. Immigration Reform Act.  Heritage teamed up with One Stop Immigration of Los Angeles in providing these services in the most emote areas of Kern County.  In these pages of our newsletter we met with Dianne Feinstein who was running for Governor and later for U.S. Senate of California.  She supported our efforts in helping immigrants obtain citizenship and permanent residency through our program where we helped over 10,000 people and their families with their citizenship and immigration situations.  Feinstein visited several of our citizenship and immigration classes in Bakersfield.  Please click on thumbnail images (right) for more information.
One Stop Immigration

Feinstein Article

Immigration Debate: An examination of current immigration perspectives


A Nation of Immigrants
by Dr. Jess G. Nieto

The population of California and Kern County has under gone dramatic changes during the last 20 years. California has become the Ellis Island of the late 20th century where thousands of new immigrants have arrived eager to find a new life for themselves and their families. Even though in the past, when economic times were booming, immigrants were accepted with open arms, today to a great number of people, immigrants have come to mean a drain on public services, a competition for jobs, and a threat to a cohesive society.

Unfortunately, immigrants have become scapegoats for Americaís ills. Today, with unprecedented shifts in the global population, we recognize that no nation can afford to completely throw its borders wide open. But we are in danger of forgetting that immigrants built America, and that our immigrant heritage is the wellspring of our nationís strength and vitality.

Just looking like an immigrant can make you the target of heckling orwewanted.jpg (16727 bytes) discrimination. Anyone of Asian, Latino, or Middle Eastern heritage knows this, including Americans who have been here several generations. I am sure that there are people who have heard the expression directed at them, "Go back to your own country," or "Go back to where you came from," and yet, these Americans who were born here sometimes want to scream out like Bruce Springsteen in his song "We were born in the U.S.A." Or, as Cheech Marin said in his hilarious but tragic movie when he was deported, "but I was born in East L.A." The fact is that throughout our history, whenever the economy has suffered, immigrants have become easy targets. But today it is not only the immigrants who suffer. Ultimately, all Americans stand to lose, native and foreign-born alike.

Today, more than ever, our nation faces a tremendous challenge of forging a unified society from highly diverse populations. Our population is undergoing a tremendous demographic transformation; and the U.S. Census demographers tell us that by the middle of the 21st Century, the majority of Americans will trace their roots to Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands.

The need to evolve into a cohesive society based on respect and understanding is neither easy nor automatic. Throughout history, racial and ethnic tensions have divided and destroyed peoples and countries.

But our history also gives us hope. Even though our nation has faced extremely difficult periods, for example: slavery in the colonial period up to the middle of the 19th century; the Jim Crow Era of the South when segregation was institutionalized; the destruction of the Native American societies; and the civil rights struggles of this century. Nevertheless, as a nation we have emerged more committed to civil rights, justice, and fairness.

studeduc.jpg (23349 bytes)Our nation can be a model for making diversity work. This country has the strongest and deepest democratic roots of any country in the world. This is a country with a living Constitution that guarantees rights to all its people, not just its citizens, but all its residents. This is a country that has taken pride in its immigrant heritage and not in its homogeneity.

But today, in societyís rush to restrict immigration, we are jeopardizing this promise. Multitudes of state and federal measures have been introduced to stop legal and illegal immigration. Backers of these proposals often rely on inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric to draw the attention of Americans, ignite their rage, and move the citizenry into action to support their political interests.

In this process, the real debate has moved away from the legitimate question of how much immigration America can sustain. Instead, we are blaming immigrants for many of our most urgent problems and trying to convince ourselves that we will solve them simply by restricting immigration. Effective immigration policy must be grounded in reason, not emotion. Racial and cultural conflicts fueled by the present anti-immigrant frenzy must cool down.

First, there must be a complete overhauling of a broken-down immigration system where the new immigration reform should provide a path to legalization for the approximate 13 million undocumented immigrants followed by their learning English and then applying for citizenship.  This is a very critical and crucial aspect for a comprehensive immigration reform that must take place.

Secondly, our immigration system must take into account the work force and labor needs of our country.  Undocumented workers are easily denied decent wages and their civil rights as workers.  Currently there are only 5,000 worker visas  available so employers and workers alike try to skirt this reality in trying to meet their mutual needs.  In essence, what is created without a plan to bring in documented workers is a two tier worker's system which perpetuates the status quo as we know it where the workers work in the shadows of society and where they are abused in their employment and human rights. 

Thirdly, an immigration reform program must unify and protect families so that they can stay together.  Keeping families together is central to a humanitarian and compassionate reform process that benefits our country.

Immigrants are not the cause of Americaís major problems. Itís time America stopped placing all the blame on immigrants and started facing up to the difficult reality of a world in transition. We must work together in order to transform America into a model of diversity based on mutual respect and understanding.  The fact is that in poll after poll, the majority of Americans desire to have a comprehensive immigration legislation that accomplishes the three points previously mentioned.

It is within this framework that Heritage of America Educational & Cultural Foundation has made a commitment during the last 25 years to put its support, resources, and energy into the promotion of the naturalization and citizenship process. Permanent legal residents have historically made substantial contributions to this country. Becoming a citizen is the final step in the integration of the immigrant community into the social fabric of our society.

The New Citizens' Project Advisory Council has been very helpful to us in reaching out to the various segments of our community. Our Advisory Council is made up of prominent Bakersfield residents, some of whom are U.S. citizens, while others are permanent legal residents, many in the process of applying for citizenship.

At Herencia de America, we thank you for your support of the New Citizens Project!

Photo (above): Dr. Nieto of Heritage, center, Fabian Nunez (left) with Chris Wilaris of Bali, Indonesia (right)  at a California State University Long Beach "roast" of Nunez, the California Assemblyman Speaker (2004).  Nunez worked with the Bakersfield branch of the One Stop Immigration program which was part of Heritage's immigration  & citizenship program in the late 80s and early 90s.  Nunez provided invaluable organizing efforts and organizational efforts to the citizenship - immigration services and programs.

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