Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
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.
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.
Two whole months after self-deporting to Mexico, walking up to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with a humanitarian parole and asylum application to come back to the United States and spending 17 days at the Eloy Detention Center in remote Arizona, I still remain in awe of the Bring Them Home action organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA).
At first, it made no sense to many as a political action. Then again, the 2010 sit-in in Senator McCain’s office in Arizona, which sparked a series of civil disobedience actions across the country for a standalone DREAM Act and brought the legislation up for a vote twice, also made no sense to many. In the past two months, and through speaking to the DREAM 9 — now released from detention — I have discovered that Bring Them Home is not just an escalation action to defy Congress and the President in order to reunite families, but that it provides us with many other lessons. I am noting some of these lessons below.
Expanding the Dreamer Label
It is perplexing that we talk a lot about immigration reform, but not about immigrant lives. Instead, whenever the immigration reform debate comes up, advocates cherry-pick a few “aspiring American” undocumented youth (“Dreamers”) to highlight, preferably with a “We are Not Criminals” banner. I am a survivor of this tactic so I have a lot of empathy for the undocumented activists who have to act like perfect poster children because they have either testified before Congress or had their photos splashed on magazine covers. The exceptional framing of the “Dreamer” borne out of the DREAM Act, a rather conservative and Republican idea, comes with a loose noose of limiting who deserves citizenship. The noose gets tighter as we start talking about who deserves a pathway to citizenship, and it strangulates the dreams of millions who will be left out of reform.
While I believe the entire exceptional framework should be thrown into the dustbin, the recent escalation tactics are trying to expand the notion of a “Dreamer” and who is deserving of American citizenship. Indeed, Claudia Amauro, one of the DREAM 9, is 37 years old, and people may not see her as technically a Dreamer. She tells me that she “had lost faith in people caring about other people” but through the original Bring Them Home action, she met wonderful people who were doing good work for their community in trying to reunite families.
“I felt like Dorothy trying to get back from the land of OZ,” says Claudia.
I am glad Claudia is back in the U.S. with her U.S. citizen son, through the DREAM 9 Bring Them Home action. She is the real Dreamer.
The Many Faces of Mexico
Mexico is often painted in the mainstream media as a poor country, knee-deep in drug cartel violence, corruption and cronyism. While that is partly true, some of the DREAM 9 who self-deported, also experienced a different Mexico.
“I loved Mexico,” Marco tells me. “Through my American, first-world, colonized eyes. I loved it but I was only there for three days. Little did I experience the violence there, which has scarred and killed too many. But I loved how everything is not a sanitized, box store, even though it is getting there. There is spontaneity in the terrain, for now.”
Not all is beautiful, and I do not want to romanticize Marco’s experience in Mexico as the only experience. He was only there for three days after all.
Adriana Diaz, one of the DREAM 9 who had been forced to leave the U.S. due to the terror of Sheriff Arpaio tells me “I never expected to live at an immigrant shelter for 7 months. It is very sad to realize that you have almost no family support whatsoever in the place you were born in.”
“I would see all the frustration and desperation transform into so many tears on so many faces of mother’s who only ask to be with their children and families. Honestly, to me, that is the furthest thing from respect,” says Adriana when she describes her experience in detention.
Six of the DREAM 9 were placed in solitary confinement after they went on a hunger-strike, as a punishment for trying to organize within the facility. Lizbeth Mateo lost 1/10 of her body weight in solitary confinement. Lulu Martinez and Maria Vargas were sentenced to 15 days in solitary for providing legal information to other women detainees, and for encouraging them to “chant and speak out against injustices that were happening in the detention center.” While in solitary, Maria Vargas was also placed on suicide watch.
“Solitary confinement was the most psychological horror thing that could ever happen to me,” says Claudia.
Marco gave us a more refreshing take on the horror of confinement: “I feel like the depression we undergo through years of fear takes a concrete body in detention. That’s where empowerment kicks in and the hope of hearing our loved ones in the outside fighting.”
DHS had promised to look into the use of solitary confinement in federal facilities in March 2013. However, it was not until after the DREAM 9 were solitary confined and brought the issue more national attention, that ICE released a memo restricting the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention. Whether or not the memo is implemented is another story for another day.
Putting the Pressure on the Executive Branch
Both parties bear responsibility for the state of our immigration system. Some immigration reform advocates — never to be confused with immigrant rights advocates — hate to hear this. The overall Reform Immigration for American, now Alliance for Citizenship, campaign has poured millions into messaging immigration reform to be about “aspiring Americans” craving to assimilate into the “melting pot” of the U.S. by becoming citizens. They have made the unyielding GOP the target of their campaign for immigration reform, even while the Obama Administration continues to deport people in record-breaking numbers.
Now, no one taking part in these escalation tactics is opposed to immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. That is beside the point. But pointing out that Obama is still deporting our parents and children sends chills up the spines of some Democrats and immigration reform advocates as it shifts from the partisan multi-million dollar narrative of the GOP killing 11.7 million dreams to the Democrat President tearing apart 1.7 million families.
At the same time even as members and supporters of NIYA take the heat for changing the message, their actions have created more space for various different non-profit groups to put pressure on the Obama Administration to stop all deportations. Indeed, Puente Arizona, NDLON, the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and various organizations across the country are coming together to escalate and put more pressure on the Administration to stop deportations, and extend deferred action to all persons.
Earning Citizenship vs. Pathos of Belonging
The UN Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
The Bring Them Home campaign presents a different way of looking at immigration reform beyond the partisan blinders of Democrats, GOP and the pathway to citizenship–a debate that has stalled the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) legislation. For a long time now, the “Dreamers” have been seen as a low-hanging fruit in the immigration debate, and the “chosen ones” for politicians to support. The good immigrant/bad immigrant dichotomy created by the exceptional framework of the DREAM Act has made its way into the “earned citizenship” concept of the current CIR legislation, which leaves millions behind. Instead of hand-picking which migrants have earned themselves a pathway to citizenship based on how aspiring they are as Americans, Bring Them Home focuses on notions of belonging, based on the simple idea that everyone has the right to live, work and reside in the place she or he considers home. The Immigrant Youth Justice League, a sister organization, describes it best:
Even when a person is removed from their home, held in detention, or deported, they are not forgotten. They, like everyone else, are integral keys of the magical piano that are our communities. The idea of home transcends borders, it transcends nationalism, singularities, it defies definition, redefines belonging, and breaks away from the imprisonment that holds many stationary. And yet an increasing militarization of our streets and borders, and economic and social policies that target marginalized communities, continue to shatter those ideas and keep loved ones apart. As fellow community members, we have the responsibility to support our neighbors and loved ones, although far away from us they still live and exist. Their ideas of home are as important here as they are there.
Everyone has the right to come home.
Migration and Love
If there is a common thread in all of these stories of the deported and departed, it is the story of love. Undocumented youth act out of love for their families and communities when they put bodies on the line to escalate against nefarious, wrong-headed, devastating immigration policies that continue to separate far too many loved ones from one another. I believe Adriana puts it best:
I admit that my entire experience in Mexico was very harsh and very desperate. However, I do think that I would participate in the whole Dream9 movement all over again, just to shed the tiniest of light to all those women who still remain locked up in the Eloy Detention Center. I’m sure that all nine of us would repeat what we did because in my opinion, part of being a “dreamer”, and part of being human is giving hope, respect , and dignity to people. Especially to those who are being brought down every single day only for the color of their skin, their language, or even their sexual preference.
Many undocumented non-citizen parents left their beloved homes and traveled long distances to give their children a better home and hope for the future. They made the courageous, dangerous and heart-breaking journey across many borders, seas and oceans out of love for their children. Through the actions of the NIYA, I see the deported and departed young adults and children of these parents doing the same today. Migration may or may not be beautiful, but somewhere, in all these stories, there is a common thread of love. And that is the bridge between all our differences.
The NIYA is now working with 30 other immigrant youth to Bring Them Home through Laredo, Texas. Unlike the last action, no one has self-deported to Mexico in an attempt to come back. These are all “Dreamers” who grew up in the U.S. and were either deported or forced to leave the country. The action will stream live today at 11 am EST.