FRESNO, Calif.—Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry capped a recent farm workers convention by promising to propose “comprehensive immigration reform” within his first 100 days in office if he defeats President George W. Bush.
Kerry made the promise in a seven-minute telephone call to delegates last Saturday at the 17th Constitutional Convention of the United Farm Workers in Fresno, California.
He also vowed to immediately sign the bipartisan AgJobs bill, which would allow undocumented farm workers to gain legal residency status.
“Within hours of being sworn in, there will be health care for all Americans,” said Kerry. “Every child in America will be covered by child care. In addition to that, we will be introducing an opportunity for kids to graduate from high school differently.”
UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez, who introduced Kerry as “the next president of the United States,” said that the union will be “with you every step of the way.”
Kerry’s remarks were the highlights of the opening day of the two-day convention, which was held at the Fresno Convention Center New Exhibit Hall.
About 400 delegates were joined by about 400 other supporters at the convention, which is putting the spotlight on the AgJobs bill and a couple of farm worker-friendly bills that were passed in the wee hours Saturday in Sacramento.
Other highlights included retirement gifts for State Sen. Pro Tem John L. Burton, the senate speaker who walked out a different man from the convention after receiving—and putting on—a red guayabera, a traditional Mexican shirt, and a black UFW jacket.
“I will not be leaving the struggle, or the fight for farm worker justice,” said Burton, who was praised for shepherding a bill two years ago that allows the UFW to go to binding arbitration on deadlocked contract talks. “I will be fighting for you.”
Burton is retiring at the end of this year from his post because of term limits.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney lambasted the Bush administration for a loss in jobs and Americans covered by health insurance.
“He sure turned his back on the American people,” said Sweeney during prepared remarks at the convention. “He promised us 5 million jobs and he’s off 7 million because he’s lost 2 million jobs.”
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, addressing the audience in Spanish, warned of a “new anti-immigrant wave.” He also backed SB 60, the driver’s license bill authored by state Sen. Gil Cedillo and passed at 3 a.m. Saturday. The governor has threatened to veto the bill because the licenses for undocumented residents would not have an identifying mark.
“If he doesn’t sign it, he’ll have to explain why not,” said Nunez, who said the governor assured lawmakers he would sign a driver’s license bill if it included criminal background checks.