Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Ciara Biography - Wrote Out Goals to Elizabeth David (1913–1992) Biography » Bert Corona: 1918-2001: Labor Organizer Biography - El Paso Childhood, Fought Crackdowns On Undocumented Latinos, "remained Optimistic"

Bert Corona: 1918-2001: Labor Organizer - Fought Crackdowns On Undocumented Latinos

hermandad mexicana immigration united

But Latinos who were ineligible to vote eventually became Corona's main focus. For many years, the border between the United States and Mexico was a relatively open one; Mexicans were encouraged to cross and provide a temporary work force for the growing agriculture and textile industries in California and southwestern United States. Moreover, many Mexicans believed that the border itself was a moot point, since a large section of the American Southwest had originally belonged to Mexico. During World War II, the U.S. government sponsored a guest-worker program to combat labor shortages in the San Diego area, but later federal officials began actively trying to deport some of them; two San Diego union leaders, Phil and Albert Usquiano, founded La Hermandad Mexicana in 1951 to help fight this.

Corona became active in La Hermandad Mexicana, one of the few Latino organizations to help undocumented aliens. Even Chávez opposed their presence, for undocumented workers had sometimes been used against his own union, the United Farm Workers, as strikebreakers. In 1968 Corona opened a Los Angeles branch of La Hermandad Mexicana, and from there established an auxiliary organization, Centros de Acción Social Autónomo, or Centers for Autonomous (Independent) Social Actions (CASA), that gave undocumented Mexicans and other Latinos help with obtaining housing aid, medical care, and legal advice. Its community centers soon became focal points for neighborhood political action. Corona was adamant in his belief that undocumented immigrants should benefit from the same protections as citizens of the United States or permanent resident aliens. Once inside U.S. borders, Corona often stated, the laws applied to everybody.

CASA was eventually taken over by a more radical student element, and Corona's involvement with the organization ended. Yet by 1976 he had made La Hermandad Mexicana a national organization, with branch offices all over California as well as in Chicago and Washington, D.C. In 1978 he was active in the formation of the Coalition for Fair Immigration Laws and Practices. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was becoming increasingly hostile in its actions against undocumented aliens in California, and some lawmakers and citizens supported harsher laws and penalties. For many years, Corona and La Hermandad fought proposed legislation that would require employers to ask potential hires for proof of citizenship or residency. It was eventually unsuccessful, for the Immigration Act of 1986 was passed into law, but the Act also included an amnesty program for undocumented aliens who had entered the country before 1982.

Corona and La Hermandad dealt with the new Immigration Act on several fronts. He believed that the amnesty clause unfairly excluded thousands from protection, and tried to find ways to encourage these Latinos to pursue the citizenship process without fear of deportation. He also objected to one of the requirements in the citizenship application process, which forced applicants to prove that they were learning the English language. Hermandad, however, provided English-language classes as well as citizenship courses. It also received federal funds earmarked for such efforts, and buoyed by this, its membership increased dramatically. By 1992, when the federal funding came to an end, Corona's La Hermandad Mexicana Nacional had helped some 160,000 Latinos became citizens. Mario T. Garcia, a history professor at UC-Santa Barbara, told the Los Angeles Times, "He [Corona] did what no one else had successfully done—organize undocumented workers."

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