Immigration Reform – At Last?

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Immigration Reform – At Last?

By Kay Philips
Chair of the YWCA Pacific Region Advocacy Committee 

My first project with the YWCA was with migrant workers, some 50 years ago. I had gone to take a class at the Community YWCA in Berkeley, made possible because they had child care for my daughter. I was recruited to the Public Policy Committee and decided I wanted to research migrant workers – a public policy position coming before the YWCA Convention. I then arranged a series of speakers, from the ACLU to the Farm Bureau.

When we moved to Palo Alto, I joined the Mid-Peninsula YWCA and discovered that there was a migrant worker camp in nearby Cupertino, at Mariani’s apricot orchard.  How better to move from research to action-related to immigration issues.

So, began the Home Peace Corps. We worked with the Santa Clara Co. Council of Churches Migrant Workers Project to gain access to the Mariani site, where they were doing make-up classes for migrant teens in the family who normally cared for the younger children while both parents worked. Our job was to provide care and programs for the pre-schoolers so the teens could attend the classes. We recruited and trained teenage girls from Palo Alto to lead projects. Other volunteers went through their neighborhoods to gather arts and crafts supplies, which we packed in old trunks to take daily to the camp site.  And volunteers were recruited to drive the teen leaders to the site.

We provided five-day a week morning child care and fostered many cross-cultural relationships—including my four-year old daughter with the camp’s pre-schoolers—and helped the teens gain a better understanding of social issues. At the end of the summer, the project was featured at the YWCA’s annual meeting, and action on the bracero program and poor housing for migrants addressed.

The name Home Peace Corps was based on the launch of the US international  Peace Corps by President Kennedy and headed by Sergeant Shriver, who even wrote us a letter of appreciation for our work.

Other ongoing projects evolved: cross-cultural day camps at the YWCA and in community back yards; “El Club” for Latinas at the YWCA backed by child care; English-as-a-Second Language classes co-sponsored with the Palo Alto Adult School; a job training program for Vietnamese refugee women. All utilized the YW building and child care facilities.

Some 50 years later, immigration reform, including for farmworkers, is once again before us. I am still doing research and fact sheets for YWCAs in over 30 locations, still urging YWCAs to provide support services for immigrants at their buildings… and I will be on Capitol Hill on June 6, lobbying to urge support of the immigration legislation on the table now. I hope you will join me.

Kay Philips is currently Chair of the YWCA Pacific Region Advocacy Committee and previously served as Executive Director of the YWCA Mid-Peninsula in Palo Alto for 22 years. Kay was on the National Board twice, and received the YWCA’s Dorothy I. Height Racial Justice Award in 2008.

This post is a part of the YWCA USA’s What Women Want blog carnival about immigration reform. Read all of the posts and join the National Day of Action on June 6.

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