Keynote Speech at Hampshire College: “Crimmigration – We Are All Criminals”

For a primer background, see “But We Are Criminals: Countering the Anti-Racial Justice Framework of Immigration Reform

I received a call from my friend Farzana yesterday. Farzana has been in the country since she was 5 years old. She is 35 now. She’s from Pakistan but she has basically lived here for most of her life. When she was about your age—she got in a little trouble. She sold some drugs to a cop for $15. But she cleaned up. She did her time and community service. She started working with at-risk youth, got married to a U.S. citizen, had three kids and put it all behind her.

Or so she thought.

Farzana called me yesterday because ICE agents had showed up at her door earlier this week, to arrest her. She was calling from a detention facility in New Jersey—scared and confused because she thought she had done her time, and she didn’t know why ICE was coming after her. It turns out that even though she was in the country lawfully as a green card holder, the $15 of meth that she had sold a cop some 15 years ago was coming back to haunt her. She was facing deportation to Pakistan—a country he had left as a five year old.

My name is Prerna. I’m a first-generation immigrant from Fiji. I’m also undocumented, and so I know a little about immigration law. That’s what brought Farzana to me and that’s why I am here today.

I’m sure we all know some of the repercussions of being undocumented.

We’re locked out of economic opportunities (no financial aid, no instate tuition in this state). We’re locked out of school (in states such as Georgia, South Carolina). We’re caged within the walls of America, detained by the invisible bars for unlawful presence and so we cannot live here and cannot leave here. Our existence is reduced to a limbo – existing illegally in America.

But what does it mean to be an undocumented person in America – an undocumented Asian-American or Pacific Islander? As an API undocumented person, I’m supposed to be a model minority, make the best of what America has to offer, achieve the American dream (whatever that means) and serve as a justification to incarcerate my black and brown brothers and sisters.

I refuse to do so.

All people of color are criminalized, albeit in different ways.

Low-income black people are more likely to be incarcerated in prisons for minor drug offenses. Low-income Latinos more likely to be incarcerated in detention centers built for immigrants for minor immigration offenses.

Black children are forced to grow up without parents who are incarcerated. Latino children are forced to grow up without parents who have been forcefully removed (deported) from the country.

I learned in high school – post 9-11, that my type of Asian is seen as A-rab and hence, a terrorist.

In essence, we are demonizing and criminalizing and entire generation of black and brown kids. This is not just a problem for our cities—it is not just a New York, Boston, Los Angeles problem. This is an American epidemic, a national crisis, where it has become acceptable for the state – through local police and federal immigration agents – to view people of color as a threat to society, first, as a cancer that needs to be removed, and as citizens, maybe last.

The last few years, we have seen an unhealthy marriage between our criminal justice system and immigration system. What do I mean by this? Crossing the border or remaining here unlawfully past our visas is actually an administrative violation much like getting a traffic ticket. Yet, if we turn on the news, we are told that undocumented immigrants are here to take our jobs, take advantage of our healthcare system, and take welfare benefits—basically that we are a threat to this country, and many times, a security problem.  This is ironic because we advertise America as a great country, as a land of immigrants, but complain when people actually buy the false advertisement and come here to work, to better their lives, to reunite with their loved ones.

To tackle this alleged threat of immigrants, states like Arizona and Alabama have tried to shift the nature of the “violation” from administrative to criminal. For instance, states such as Georgia and South Carolina banned higher education for undocumented students. Alabama took it further, compelling schools to check the immigration status of students and report the data to the state. And of course, Arizona has become famous for making unlawful presence in the state a crime. These state laws compel police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspected may not be in the country legally, thereby implicating the criminal justice system in immigration enforcement.

But I don’t want you to leave this room thinking that it is something that only states are doing. The federal government has expanded this criminalization of immigrants. Under the Bush Administration, the Customs and Border Protection agents used to “catch and release” immigrants caught at the border. Under the Obama Administration, people caught within 100 miles of the border are no longer “caught and released.” Many of these people—who are here to work or reunite with their families—are given criminal convictions, and subjected to expedited removal, which is the act of deporting someone without due process of law. In fact, immigration convictions make up the majority of federal convictions. And we have a president who has deported more than 2 million people in the last six years, earning himself the title of “deporter-in-chief.”

Actually, the federal government has all of these euphemisms for the new penology of immigrants to try and hide or justify what they are really doing to our communities:

“Operation Streamline” – program that brings criminal charges against anyone trying to enter the country, and leaves people with criminal convictions. I’m not sure what exactly is being streamlined.

“Worksite enforcement action” – violent, sloppy raids of workplaces that puts U.S. companies out of business and workers out of jobs

“Voluntary departure” – When immigration agents force someone to agree to their own deportation. So much for voluntariness.

“Secure Communities” – Federal government program that removes hard-working migrants from our communities without due process of law, making us feel less secure

“Criminal Alien Removal Initiative (CARI)” – They should have just called this “stop and frisk” for Latinos. CARI is a program that was piloted in New Orleans – involves local police and ICE arresting, detaining and deporting people who appear to be Latino.

Basically, the list of euphemisms is long. The destruction of our communities at the hands of the state very real.

To address the situation at hand, some of our politicians in Washington D.C. are trying to enact some sort of immigration reform. These politicians promise that it will be different this time—that reform will stop the deportations and decrease the use of detention against people of color.  The two groups most targeted by immigration control law over the last century, Latinos and Asians, have increased in numbers and political power and so these politicians want to give us a peace offering.

But the proposals on the table are dominated by a focus on getting “right with the law” in order to get citizenship, and billions in funding for the same border and interior enforcement that is tearing our families apart. The same advocates trying to pass immigration reform in Washington D.C. are the same ones who talk about stopping unnecessary deportations as if some are deportations are necessary. These advocates tell us that “we are not criminals” even while ignoring the very real criminalization that we are undergoing as people of color. They talk about which groups of immigrants are “good” and which are “bad” and thus, divide up our communities. They tell us that citizenship will solve all our problems – ignoring that citizenship doesn’t mean much when you are brown or black in America.

In effect, immigration reform from Washington D.C. will leave thousands languishing in detention, facing deportation and continue to tear apart families and communities. So perhaps then, the lack of reform is a blessing in disguise. What we need is justice.

What does justice look like?

Justice requires intervention — when people put their bodies on the line to join campaigns that are about them, but often do not include them;

Justice looks like the simultaneous hunger-strikes in detention centers across the country;

The Not 1 More Deportation campaign, and the hunger strike in Washington D.C. led by the directly impacted to call on the President to stop deportations;

Justice requires that we organize to end policies like “Secure Communities” that divide up our communities into good and bad immigrants, and tear us apart;

Justice involves taking risks and pushing the boundaries – the infiltration of detention centers, the actions taken at the border by brave young people to reunite families;

Justice is no to legalization in exchange for more enforcement;

Justice requires that we stop saying “we are not criminals” and start working towards ending the ways in which we are all criminalized;

Justice requires that we build black-brown solidarity by recognizing how the state criminalizes our bodies, our people, and uniting in our fight against the prison industrial complex;

Justice is about treating everyone equally, regardless of whether we have papers or not – which means driver’s licenses, instate tuition, and health care, and jobs for undocumented immigrants without subjecting us to mass arrest and incarceration;

Justice is to forgive my friend Farzana’s prior transgression, and to fight for her to be able to stay in here with her family.

Open Letter to the Immigrant Rights Movement: Our Families Can’t Wait

 

Immigration Reform Leaders Arrested 1

Immigration Reform Leaders Arrested 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am cross-posting this letter, which was initiated by DRM Action Coalition, and signed by over 80 immigrant youth leaders. You can probably still sign on here in solidarity.

Buzzfeed has the story. I disagree with the false binary setup in the Buzzfeed headline, but the letter is worth a read.

Open Letter to the Immigrant Rights Movement: Our Families Can’t Wait

Dear Friends and Allies in the Immigrant Rights Movement,

We are writing this letter to open a dialogue about the direction and strategy of the immigration reform campaign in the New Year. For us, this is not a question of ideology, but our own and our families’ lives. We hope that this letter will agitate your thinking and that we can move together in a new direction in 2014.

First, we want to recognize the collective work of our movement last year. From lobbying members of Congress, to infiltrating detention centers, to stopping individual deportations, we have each done our part to make this movement stronger and to advance the rights of the immigrant community. We want to thank you, every person and organization, that has dedicated themselves to this cause.

Despite all the hard work that we did last year, we cannot ignore that we did not win a legislative policy change. In the same year we lived through close to 370,000 undocumented immigrants being deported by the Obama administration. We saw toddlers carry signs asking for their parents to be released from detention; we saw families taken in the middle of the night after a simple knock at the door; we saw ICE taking parents while working, and then labeling them as felons. Their only crime was to work to provide food for their family. As leaders, we need to have the humility to reassess our strategy and make changes when something is not working.

How did we get to this point where we haven’t passed immigration reform? Entering 2013, we felt confident. We were all on a high from the 2012 elections. We were sure that the Tea Party’s defeats, including Mitt Romney’s loss due to his “self deportation” stance, would finally move the Republican Party to act on immigration legislation. Like you, we, DREAMers, undocumented youth-led and parent-led organizations, remember feeling confident that we could achieve immigration reform with a path to citizenship for all eleven million undocumented immigrants.

While the Senate immigration bill was not perfect, we were hopeful that its passage meant we were halfway there and that a bipartisan deal was taking shape in Congress. The logic at the time was that passing the Senate Bill would increase momentum to pass it in the House. This, however, did not happen.

Looking for a way to keep the pressure, a number of organizations asked Democrat leadership to introduce H.R. 15 in the House with the hopes that it would pressure Speaker Boehner to allow a vote or introduce his own legislation. While we thank these organizations for doing what they thought was right at the time, unfortunately, it was a miscalculation. Speaker Boehner refused to bring the Senate bill to the floor, and no Republican had the courage to introduce their own bills. Despite all of our efforts, we didn’t have the power to get the Speaker to bring up the Senate bill.

Democrat leadership, meanwhile, has established hard lines like “citizenship or nothing,” making it politically impossible for both parties to come to the table on a real solution. Blaming Republicans for killing CIR became good propaganda for the Democratic Party, and alienated the few Republicans who were interested in moving legislation forward.

At the end of the year, as Congressmen went home for recess, we were left with nothing for our families. What could we tell the people in deportation who kept calling us, even on Christmas Eve? Tens of thousands of parents across the country spent their Christmas behind bars in cold jail cells in detention centers, the hopes of immigration reform fading from their hearts. Tens of thousands of peoples tried to make the best of Christmas, but couldn’t really smile because a loved one was missing. People like the Zuniga family, whose son Joel was deported. Joel’s mom Marypaz said the food didn’t taste the same and she didn’t feel like putting up Christmas lights this year. People like Naira, who’s husband Ardany was deported in the middle of the night the week before Christmas. While a group of us held vigil outside of Florence detention center, ICE snuck Ardany out the back to deport him. Naira was left with her 2 year old son and newborn daughter, fighting back the tears so that the children could enjoy Christmas morning.

Lupita Arreola, Erika’s mother, Mario Montoya, Reyna’s father, Mario Andrade and Hareth’s father are all still in deportation proceedings. How many more will it take before we stop this? How many more families will be torn apart? How many more children traumatized?

We don’t know what’s going to happen in 2014, but we know that the status quo is unbearable. We cannot stand by and watch another 2 million people get deported while we try to pass an ideal immigration reform.

As people who are directly affected, we ask you to revisit your strategy:

1. Focus on a practical legislative solution for immediate relief for families, even if it doesn’t include a special path to citizenship. Our families and communities need relief now, not ideological hard lines.
2. Allow bills that are already amenable to citizenship for Dreamers and legalization for parents without blocking existing citizenship channels. We will not accept a proposal that blocks, bans or bars citizenship.
3. Use our power and political capital to call on Democrats and the President to expand administrative relief and stop unjust deportations. NDLON has already laid out what this could look like http://goo.gl/DZjaeN
4. Focus on advancing substantive policy this year, not on advancing the electoral efforts of the Democratic Party. Let go of HR 15 and SB 744 and focus on winnable pieces of legislation in the House. No, we will not take ‘just anything.’ We want to see the Republicans proposals on the table and then we will decide if its good for our community or not.

As undocumented advocates, we do want citizenship rights. We believe that this is our country, and our family’s home. We do want to be able to vote and voice our opinions. We cannot, however, wait for that to happen while our families are being persecuted. Walking away with nothing is not an option for us; “citizenship-or-nothing” is not an option. We can’t ask our communities to wait for “citizenship” while we see our mothers, our fathers and our children being taken from our homes by immigration. We can’t wait while we see our families being taken into detention centers for months and even years while our children are being traumatized.

Through this letter we are asking that you stand with us. Fight with us for immediate relief for our families. Let’s together hold President Obama accountable for every deported parent. Let’s find a way to work with both parties to find an immediate solution, even if it’s a solution that doesn’t include a “special” pathway to citizenship.

Together lets achieve a level of peace for our families and our communities, a peace that will allow us to live free from persecution, that will allow us to live, work, travel like a human being. We want our mothers to see their parents, to be able to hug them and not arrive to visit their grave. We want to be able to drive without the panic of seeing a police officer in our rearview mirror. We want to be able to live knowing that we will come home and see our children at the end of the day.

Once we achieve this level of relief/stability, there is no question that we will keep fighting for more- for what rightly belongs to our families. Our families are not conformist. Our mothers crossed borders, risked their lives for something better. We need to survive but will never settle, we will always fight for the betterment of our families.

Sincerely,

Jose Patiño, Dreamer, Dream is Now
Erika Andiola, Dreamer & Co-Director, Dream Action Coalition
Cesar Vargas, Dreamer & Co-Director, Dream Action Coalition
Yadira Garcia, Dreamer & Co-Founder of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition
Reyna Montoya, Dreamer, Father is in deportation
Maria Castro, Fighting for Undocumented Mother
Ola Kaso, Dreamer, The Dream is Now
Alejandro Morales, DREAMer, The Dream is Now
Dulce Matuz, President/Chair of Arizona DREAM Act Coalition
Prerna Lal, Board Director, Immigration Equality
Tania Unzueta, Undocumented Organizer
Giancarlo Tello, DREAMer, New Jersey Dream Act Coalition
Marco A. Malagon, President/Co-Founder, North Texas Dream Team
Jesus Iñiguez, Undocumented & Unafraid, DreamersAdrift.com
Sagar Patagundi, Undocumented & Co-Founder Kentucky Dream Coalition
Irvin Camacho, Executive Director, Arkansas Natural Dreamers
Juan Deoses, Undocumented Organizer, New Mexico Dreamers In Action
Julio Zuniga, Dreamer, deported Dreamer brother
Hareth Andrade, Virginia Dreamer, Father in Deportation Proceedings
Lucy Allain
Guadalupe Arreola, Undocumented Mother, President – Arizona Original Dreamers
Alejandra Saucedo, DREAMers’ Moms National Network
Rosario Reyes, Undocumented Parent, Arizona Original Dreamers
Raul Leon, Undocumented Father in deportation, Arizona Original Dreamers
Mario Montoya, AZ Dreamer Dad, Parents and Youth in Action
Juana Torres Paura, Original Dreamers Moms
Rocio Andiola, Undocumented Parent, Arizona Orginal Dreamers
Diana Duran, Undocumented Mother, Arizona Original Dreamers
Maria de los Angeles Diaz Ochoa, Undocumented Parent, Arizona Original Dreamers
Alma Vega, Arizona Original Dreamers
Yanet Rodriguez, Dreamer, Arizona Original Dreamers
Fatima Ramirez, Dreamer, Arizona Original Dreamers
Rossy Sandoval, AZ Dreamer Mom, Parents and Youth in Action
Rocio Duran, Undocumented Mother, Arizona Original Dreamers
Claudia Rodriguez, Undocumented Mother, Arizona Original Dreamers
Carmen Irene, Padres y Jóvenes en Acción
Eva Maria, DREAMers’ Moms Virginia
Delia Patiño, Dreamer Mom
Maria Campos, DREAMers Moms USA
Carolina Canizales, Undocumented Dreamer
Celso Mireles, DACAmented Dreamer & Co-Founder of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition
Ileana Salinas, DACAmented & AZ Worker Rights Center
Sigifredo Pizana, Dreamer
Lily Marín
William Palacios, Arizona DREAM Act Coalition
Nora Hernandez, Undocumented Community Organizer, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos
Alan Salinas, Operations Manager, Arizona DREAM Act Coalition
Isaias Vasquez, Dreamer
Excy Guardado, University Student, Dreamers of Virginia
Ivan Godinez Reyes, Dream Act OK Tulsa
Lizardo Buleje, DACAmented
Belen Sisa, Dreamer
Pedro Gutierrez Santaman
Juana Pinyol, Undocumented/Board Member, Hudson Valley Community Coalition
Adriana Garcia, DREAMer & Community Organizer, Team Awesome
Hina Naveed, Dreamer, Staten Island DREAM Coalition
Francisco Luna, UndocuQueer, Arizona Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project
Erick Garcia, Undocumented & Technology Director, DREAM Action Coalition
Bibiana Vazquez, DREAMer, Arizona Dream Act Coalition
Viridiana Hernandez, Undocumented Community Organizer/Co-Founder of Team Awesome Arizona
Ignacio Frias, DACAmented
Ana Aguayo, Dreamer/Interim Executive Director, Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center
Ana Patiño, Dreamer
Camila Quariwarmi Munayki, Writer, Artist Painter, Activist
Alex Aldana, Movement Organizer and Jota Strategist, East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition, San Francisco Undocuworkforce
Ramiro Luna, DREAMer & Veteran Activist, North Texas DREAM Team
Jessica Rubio, Undocumented Community Organizer, Team Awesome
Yovany Diaz, Activist, Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance
Carla Chavarria, Dreamer/Business Owner, IDREAM
Ernestor De La Rosa, DREAMer & Community Organizer, Sunflower Community Action
Francisco Salcido, DREAMer & Community Organizer
Lilly Romo, Undocumented, Phoenix DREAMers
Alina Cortes, Military DREAMer, DREAM Army
Aldo Gonzalez, Organizer, Team Awesome
Cairo Mendes, Organizer/Dreamer, Student Immigrant Movement
Carlos Vargas, DREAMer, Staten Island Dream Coalition
Yajaira Saavedra, New York City
Maxima Guerrero, AZ Dreamer
Abraham Ponce, Online Coordinator, NTDT
Jesus Gutierrez, Voces of Norristown
Alfredo Garcia, President, Council for Minority Student Affairs
Lenka Mendoza, Coordinadora, Dreamers Families in Aciton & Dreamers Moms USA
Carlos Zuniga, DACAmented
Ruben Castilla Herrera, Organizer, Ohio Action Circle
Jenny Derksen from Ohio
Yuridia Arreola, Volunteer, Team Awesome
Ainee Athar, Undocumented Youth
Jorge Salazar, Dreamer Organizer
The Arizona DREAM Act Coalition
The Arkansas Natural DREAMers
DREAM Army
DREAM Bar Association
Peter Lin-Marcus, Supporter/Ally
Ang Sherpa, friend is in deportation
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Community Voices: “Legalization for All”

President Obama continues to deport people, even as pro-reform advocates with significant salaries continue to fast on Capitol Hill for comprehensive immigration reform. The undocumented have been starved for many years so we’ll continue to eat what we can.

In some good news, the federal government is stopping the deportations of the spouses, children and parents of U.S. Armed Forces, paroling them under § 212(a)(6)(A)(i). This means family members of current and former U.S. armed forces personnel would no longer face deportation. To request parole, the non-citizen must submit to the director of the USCIS office with jurisdiction over the non-citizen’s place of residence:

o Completed Form I-131, Application for Travel Document (No fee required)
o Evidence of the family relationship;
o Evidence that the alien’s family member is an Active Duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces, individual in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve or an individual who previously served in the U.S. Armed Forces or the Selected Reserve or the Ready Reserve such as a photocopy of both the front and back of the service member’s military identification card (DD Form 1173);
o Two identical, color, passport style photographs; and
o Evidence of any additional favorable discretionary factors that the requestor wishes considered.

This move serves as further evidence that the Obama Administration has the authority to stop deportations through administrative ways, and can expand DACA to include our family members. This news also comes at a time when the Pentagon has come out with a new discriminatory policy that family members of undocumented can no longer serve in the Marines or Navy. I suppose if U.S. citizens are not allowed to serve in the Marines or Navy, their family members cannot be paroled in the same way as the family members of the U.S. Army. This policy is irreconcilable with the Administration’s use of discretion for Army families, and put simply, unlawful discrimination.

Speaking of irreconcilable policies, ICE has deported five of the DREAM 30 in what appears to be a political ploy to deter similar efforts in the future. Nayeli Buenrostro, Erika Guzman, and Jonathan Zuniga remain detained at El Paso, Texas, even after passing their credible fear interviews. According to their attorney David Bennion:

ICE wants to push Erika and Nallely through expedited removal proceedings under difficult circumstances–I am representing them pro bono from the other side of the country–in order to deport them as soon as possible. ICE believes they can get away with this because the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has abandoned Erika, Nallely, and the rest of the Dream 30. If they are deported, it will be on the shoulders of Reps. Gutierrez and Hinojosa and the other members of Congress who stood by and watched it happen. This is a clear abuse of discretion of the kind that is unfortunately all too common under the Obama administration.

Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Presente.org, the largest Latino online advocacy organization in the country has expressed his disappointment with most of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who are getting “Dreamers” arrested and not fighting to stop the deportations of their own community members:

The arrest of the immigrant rights activists by one of the most powerful Latinos in Congress is more than just ironic. Rather, it reflects how profoundly the complex politics of immigration reform have changed. Increasingly, Democrats from President Obama on down, are the object of growing numbers of protests, marches, sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience designed to push Democrats to stop the greatest, most immediate threat to immigrant life: the detention and deportation madness that has led Democrat Obama to become what some are calling “Deporter-In-Chief” and “the worst immigration President in US history.”

[…]

And then there’s the tragic truth that can’t be muted with hollow calls of “Si Se Puede!” at rallies for an “immigration reform” that has no chance of passing: the overwhelming majority of the soon-to-be 2 million people deported by the administration are Mexican and Central American. Meanwhile, as the entire immigrant rights community escalates its activism in its call to end this tragedy, Hinojosa and many members of the CHC attack Republicans, get DREAMers arrested, but remain silent before President Obama’s unprecedented devastation of Latinos.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) is utterly paralyzed, much like most of Congress. Earlier this week, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) dropped a bombshell that he knew CIR was dead, not even on life support, in May, something we have known for a while. In light of this revelation, it is rather bizarre that Rep. Gutierrez would allow his Communications Director to misuse his government resources to launch a personal attack on an undocumented organizer for saying the same. For those who do not know, this is how the CIR lobby works–you get close to unveiling the truth about the immigration non profit industrial complex, and you get burned. Been there, done that. This is how, despite dozens of announcements about the death of CIR, the media manipulation has continued. Since the excellent pieces in The Hill (How Immigration Died Part 1 and Part 2), pro-reform groups, who stand to lose millions of dollars in funding if the reform effort appears dead, have gone on a media blitz to salvage S.744 and H.R. 15 by spreading more misinformation and lies about the prospects of the legislation.

Instead of flogging a dead horse, grassroots efforts and calls to stop the deportations are growing. Yesterday, in New Orleans, Congreso de Jornaleros (Congress of Day Laborers) held a sit-in, asking ICE to stop the raids and deportations of community members.

Congress of Day Laborers/Congreso de Jornaleros sitting-in at ICE to say #Not1More raid or deportation.

Photo Credit: Not 1 More Campaign, NDLON.

The Legalization for All campaign held a nationwide call-in day to ask that President Obama extend DACA to other undocumented residents, with over a hundred people making calls in support. Geraldo Rivera, Fox News Latino, agrees that the way to move forward is for Obama expand discretion and work on obtaining driver’s licenses for undocumented residents:

Among other efforts, the shorter-term strategy must focus on the discretionary power of the president elected by Latinos to ease the plight of the undocumented. Like Mr. Obama has already done with the “DREAMer” kids, (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program), he can issue administrative orders to call off immigration agents and ease the rush to deport the kid’s parents.

The other thing immigrant advocates can do is put pressure on State Houses and Governor’s Mansions.

On Monday, Maryland became the 13th state to either issue or announce it will soon be issuing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants; joining Connecticut, Utah, California, North Carolina, Illinois, Oregon, Colorado, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington State, Washington D.C., New Mexico and Vermont.

Speaking of driver’s licenses, Illinois is already rolling out licenses for undocumented residents. And after our strong push for One City, One License in the District of Colombia, Mayor Gray will sign a bill this Monday giving driver’s licenses to all undocumented residents. The Office of Latino Affairs estimates that over 20,000 residents would be eligible for a driver’s license or state identification card in D.C. In order to obtain a driver’s license or identification in D.C. starting in May, undocumented residents would need to get an individual taxpayer ID number from the IRS and establish 6 months of residency in the District. In other words, the time to move to the District of Columbia, is now. If you know people who can benefit from this, put them in touch with DreamActivist D.C. as we work on implementation efforts. 

Grassroots momentum is also translating into wins. In New Jersey, the New Jersey Dream Act Coalition (NJDAC) continued to move closer to winning tuition equity for undocumented students, with a Senate vote set for Monday. Governor Christie has indicated that he would sign the legislation, giving instate-tuition rates to all undocumented residents who have a diploma from a New Jersey high school.

Moving away from politics, it is college and graduate school applications season! As such, the Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC) released their much awaited 2013-2014 guide for scholarship for undocumented students.

As always, send me your blogs and even books to feature on this blog. This week, I received The Ones Who Don’t Stay, by Paola Mendoza. I look forward to reading and reviewing it as I work on my book.

Growing Clash Between Those Who Want Deportations to Stop And Advocates for S.744

Aloha from Hawaii! It has been a while.

While the Democrats continue to look for ways to use immigration reform as a way to win more House seats next year, immigration court backlogs have climbed to 344,230, an 85 percent rise in the past five years. More data from TRAC this month reveals that less than 1 in 9 persons targeted by ICE detainers have criminal records, and over 62 percent of persons in detention have no criminal records, even though the Obama Administration says it is focusing on only deporting so-called criminals.

Photo Credit: Rubén Castilla Herrera

The grassroots immigrant rights movement

Local and state organizing efforts have continued to end Obama’s record-breaking deportations and challenge the growing archipelago of detention policies. In Arizona, protestors chained themselves to three buses in order to stop Operation Streamline, a program that deports every undocumented immigrant caught at the border. Later, 250 protestors marched to the local ICE office while six protestors blocked the entrance to Eloy Detention Center, demanding an end to deportations. In San Francisco, undocumented immigrant activists came together to stop a deportation bus and demand an end to deportations. Advocates from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, continued to work with families to bring home loved ones who had been previously deported, winning parole for 10 out of 34 persons.

Some of this grassroots organizing has irked the immigration reform groups in the beltway. Recently, during the government shutdown, several of these astro-turf Democrat Party groups organized a street theater on Capitol Hill, complete with a band, where they held fake civil disobedience actions with members of Congress to salvage hopes for comprehensive immigration reform. They spent several millions of dollars to bring people to D.C., who stuck around long enough to enjoy the wonderful Los Tigres del Norte concert and take photos such as this one:

Photo Credit: Steve Pavey

Members of Congress getting photo-bombed by advocates who want to stop all deportations and bring the deported home

The mainstream media called it a protest for immigration reform, but even the legal observers at the action complained directly to me that the arrests and charges were pre-planned and pre-negotiated with the Capitol police. The political theater also angered various community members.

Of course, we can’t have photo-op protests for dignity and respect, and fake hopes for immigration reform with the 19 legislative days left on the calendar this year, when 1,100 persons are deported per day and an additional 34,000 languish in detention. After the #ShutDownICE protests, Executive Director of NDLON, Pablo Alvarado, penned an excellent column in Politico in support of stopping deportations:

If his legal authority is not in question, then it’s only a matter of political will. In determining his way forward, the president must decide what side of history he wishes to be on: with the reformers or with the obstructionists. That’s why seven undocumented people handcuffed themselves to the White House fence calling on him to act and hundreds more shut down immigration and customs enforcement operations in Arizona earlier this month in hopes of spurring the president to follow suit.

Obama should also consider who’s on the other side of this debate: fringe lawmakers who have vowed to oppose him no matter what. The lesson from last week’s budget showdown is clear: The president must no longer capitulate to a vocal, irrational minority in Congress. With the stroke of a pen, he has the power to advance the immigration debate and do right by thousands of families who just want a chance at a better life. What is he waiting for?

Even Rep. Luis Gutierrez has admitted that the President must stop deportations. Thus far, the President and his team of advisors have refused the deafening calls to stop deportations, pointing the finger on the GOP’s refusal to pass S.744, while still asking us to keep the pressure on everyone. One can hardly blame him for continuing to shift the blame on the GOP, especially with beltway groups such as America’s Voice and the Bipartisan Policy Center providing cover for the continued detention and deportations. Their logic is that stopping deportations by providing the 11.7 million undocumented with deferred action so that they can work, drive, travel without facing deportation would kill any chance of comprehensive reform. Caesar Vargas, founder of DRM Action and a fellow undocumented person, counters that logic in The Huffington Post:

In the end, Congress must take action for a permanent solution. No one disputes that. But we must live with the realities of deportation records being broken every year. The Obama administration has accumulated this legacy as a concession to the least reasonable members of government who are controlled by their primary voters. If President Obama were to halt deportations, it could serve as a model for Congress, and would put pressure on Congress to create a solution that would then displace the President’s discretion.

As President Obama made another speech for immigration reform, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) had the undocumented mothers of the DREAM 30 — who are currently detained in Texas after trying to come back to the U.S. —  arrested after a sit-in in his D.C. office. The undocumented parents were trying to get the Democratic Senator from New Jersey to make a phone call and write a letter to the President requesting an exercise of discretion and parole for the detained Dreamers. Various members of Congress have already written letters in support of the Dreamers who are detained. The arrested parents could have been subjected to detention and deportation too had it not been for the Capitol’s non-ICE detainer policy. The parents of these Dreamers have sworn to be back on the Hill this coming week.

In the meantime, Silky Shah, interim ED of the Detention Watch Network (DWN), put the spotlight on detention by informing us that even comprehensive immigration reform could leave thousands in detention. That’s probably an understatement given S. 744, in its current form, criminalizes entry without inspection with up to one year in prison, re-entry with up to three years, and expands avenues for targeting and incarcerating the undocumented. For example, one of the amendments to S.744 mandates that ICE receive a weekly list of persons that failed e-Verify, most likely for fresh witch-hunts against the undocumented. But it is heartening that DWN recognizes and is vocal about how comprehensive immigration reform won’t do much for detention.

Marisa Franco from NDLON, also wrote an excellent piece in Fox News Latino, asking immigration reform advocates stop pitting the fight for immigration reform against asking for administrative fixes and focus on winning immigrant justice rather than winning midterm elections for Democrats:

As we work to protect our families, we need to also protect the historic momentum we’ve built from being squandered by those who may be more interested in their political careers than our family’s futures. The immigrant rights movement is too vibrant, too beautiful, and too resilient to be subordinated for any party’s reelection. The stakes are too high. Those who are pushing in every way are not ‘tone deaf’ as some might suggest. It’s the other way around. Anyone listening at all to “the field” will hear the cry loud and clear, not one more deportation. Not one more family separated. Not one more day of inaction. Not one more.

David Bacon has a ground-breaking piece up at TruthOut on the widening split between the fiction of comprehensive immigration reform among Beltway insiders and the reality for immigrant rights activists on the ground:

Beyond the beltway ringing Washington, DC, many grass-roots protests over the impact of current immigration policy are linked to support for a more progressive vision of immigration reform. Groups like the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and Community2Community advocate a program called the Dignity Campaign. It calls for inclusive legalization, repealing employer sanctions and ending the firings, stopping mass deportations and detentions, demilitarizing the border, and renegotiating trade agreements like NAFTA that increase poverty and forced migration. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has made a similar proposal, called “A New Path.”

In the final analysis, the campaign for comprehensive immigration reform is not a movement. It is a multi-million dollar campaign, organized by some Democratic Party astroturf groups in Washington D.C. who are more concerned about their paychecks and less about immigrant lives. Anyone who says otherwise is delusional.

The immigrant rights movement is led by people outside the Beltway. It is led by groups such as Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, Community2Community, Puente Arizona, Families for Freedom, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, the day laborers working with NDLON, the NIYA, IYJL, NYSYLC, the IYIC and the amazing array of undocumented youth leaders working in their communities.

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In case anyone is wondering about my blog hiatus, I’m using this time productively to write my book. This week I’m in Hawaii, which is halfway home. I’m inching closer and closer to ending my fourteen year imprisonment and exile. More updates soon!

Whither Immigration Reform?

NIYA Bring Them Home

The DREAM 9 after they were released on parole

Lets get this out of the way: Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), with a pathway to citizenship, is dead for 2013.

Many of our friends working hard on Capitol Hill insist that immigration reform talks are moving forward despite the death of the House “Gang of 7” lawmakers who were supposedly working on a bill. I respect the undocumented youth who have been working with legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, to move the ball forward. It is not an easy task. I have been there and done that 2007-2010, watching the federal DREAM Act come up for a vote and fail to pass twice over. I have played the game with lawmakers, lobbied extensively on the issue, and organized to bring about legislative change. But the apparent failure of these efforts is also a testament to why we need people outside the institutions, such as The National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) to kick things into gear, and inject energy and enthusiasm into the debate.

I just received word from the The National Immigrant Youth Alliance that that they are not waiting for comprehensive immigration reform. To be clear, that is not what NIYA is about in the first place. NIYA’s mission is to teach immigrant communities how to fight for themselves. After the brilliant DREAM 9 action, the NIYA will be doing another border surge this coming week, Bring Them Home 2, where they will bring back dozens of families previously deported. This is in response to the very real urgency that many of us feel in our communities: we cannot face the horrors of cartel violence and live torn apart from our homes and families for another second.

As for the institutions still working towards comprehensive immigration reform, I wonder how much of that is simply the immigration non-profit industrial complex talk to keep the issue alive and not concede that the comprehensive strategy has been a dismal failure for our communities. I also wonder whether the 1,100 people deported on a daily basis can afford to wait while politicians and self-appointed figureheads pander with their lives. I have heard from many friends within the immigration reform complex that the main goal of the continuous push for immigration reform is to punish the GOP at the polls, rather than to win relief for all our communities. I could care less for the political games, and contrary to that goal, there is a real sense of urgency in a lot of immigrant communities to bring about change. Many are now looking to the so-called nuclear option — President Obama, exercising his discretionary authority, to grant relief for the 11 million, and pursue other executive remedies.

Least we forget, President Obama was compelled to issue Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), after pressure from both inside and outside groups. While it has many shortcomings and served as a way to silence a lot of critics, the program has granted relief to close to 500,000 undocumented youth. There is no reason that the President cannot expand it to cover everyone. As even Republican Marco Rubio pointed out last month,  Obama could be “tempted” into legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants with the “sign of a pen” if congressional reform efforts keep stalling. Many organizations, such as the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) have insisted on this temporary fix as well.

When compared to the option of eventually passing an immigration bill complete with border militarization, criminalizing future undocumented populations, and no pathway to citizenship, as many groups are now willing to compromise behind closed doors, deferred action for all may be the better temporary solution. It will remove the threat of deportation for millions of families, and allow them to reside and work legally in the United States. As more families come out of the shadows, show their contributions to society, Congress would have to create a more permanent fix, as it did with NACARA in 1997, where certain Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, nationals of former Soviet bloc countries and their dependents were granted lawful permanent resident status after their cases burdened the asylum system. A little birdie tells me that the Bring Them Home project has similar goals.

Plan A is then, to stop the deportations and grant deferred action for all. It puts more pressure on House Republicans to do something, besides drag their feet in order to kill immigration reform. It stops Democrats from using the immigration issue as a way to pander to growing Latino demographics. Deferred action for all would also create energy and enthusiasm in immigrant communities across the country. And President Obama, currently known as the Deporter-in-Chief for record-breaking deportations, gets to rewrite history books about how he granted amnesty to the 11 million, and liberated the undocumented. He shouldn’t pass it up without a second thought. That would be a mistake.

The clock is running down.