Of the Deported and Departed – Lessons from the #BringThemHome Campaign


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.”

Solitary confinement

“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.

TODAY: DREAM 9 Released from Eloy Detention Center


This just in from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance: “We just got the call, ‪‎Dream 9‬ will be released today! Mission Accomplished!”

After being forced to leave his home in the US to get urgent surgery, Ceferino will finally be able to return to his community.

Claudia will finally be able to come home to the place where she grew up, and live here in safety with her mother and U.S. citizen son.

After growing up in North Carolina, Luis attempted to come home 4 times. Now he will finally be able to reunite with his family.

Adriana came to the US when she was 4 months old. Now she will be able to come home to the place she has lived for her entire life.

Maria left the U.S. just 3 days before DACA was announced. Now she will be able to come home and reunite with her community.

Mario will be able to come home, and will be safe from the violent threats he received after witnessing a crime.

Obviously, there is still work to be done. The DREAM 9 have to win either humanitarian parole, asylum or stays of removal in the United States as they still face removal proceedings.

But for now, we rejoice.

We rejoice the hard work, courage and vision of our friends — Lizbeth Mateo, Lulu Martinez and Marco Saavedra —  who, out of tremendous love, left the country, put their bodies and lives on the line, to bring back other Dreamers who had been previously deported or forced to leave.

And we rejoice our mammoth community of supporters who signed petitions, made calls, tweeted, participated in hunger strikes, wrote letters to the DREAM 9, engaged in media wars, lobbied Congresspersons, sat down in various different offices, got arrested for the release of the DREAM 9.

Contrary to media hype, the DREAM 9 UNITED the immigrant rights movement — every undocumented-led organization signed on in support of bringing them back home where they belong.

Thank you for making this possible.

Together, we can #BRINGTHEMHOME and reunite our families.

Please direct all media requests to media@theniya.org

DREAM 9 Pass Credible Fear


PB Fotography

PB Fotography

The media is abuzz with news that the DREAM 9 were approved for asylum or tentatively approved.

Before you go out to protest against “asylum for Mexican nationals” none of this is true.

When someone walks into the U.S. without papers and requests asylum, they are detained for a credible fear interview, which should be given to them within 48 hours. Alas, sometimes this takes months. Our organizing helped to get these interviews conducted within a week.

Credible fear is a really low bar. It does not mean they have been granted asylum or will be granted asylum.

Now, the Dream 9 should receive a Notice to Appear in Immigration Court in Arizona, to fight for their asylum claim in front of a judge. The date will be set later. First, they have a Master Calendar hearing, which should be scheduled soon, and then an individual hearing for the asylum claim.
This can take months, even years. During this entire process, they are subject to detention. Thankfully, the Obama Administration has a practice of releasing persons who pass the credible fear interview. However, asylum is not the goal – it is a legal strategy to get them out of detention. The goal is to bring them home. Today, call on ICE to release them so they can come home.

1. Sign the petition if you have not already

2. Make a call:
DC ICE @ 202-732-3000
ICE in AZ @ 602-766-7028

Script: “While they fight their cases, let the Dream 9 go!”

Now for the news round-up.

Michelle Chen wrote a great and must-read piece on the DREAM 9 yesterday for In These Times:

The Dream 9 have become a rallying point for many youth in the movement who have felt shut out of the cautious political dialogues in Washington. By framing immigrant justice as a human rights issue, they challenge mainstream reform groups that selectively tout the merits of the “good” immigrants who have proven to be “deserving” through their educational achievement or patriotism. They aim to push the debate beyond the usual Beltway rhetoric of “earned citizenship” and “aspiring Americans.” After all, these young detainees are not the “model” Dream Act youth who make the headlines, the sympathetic strivers. For these rogue nine, it’s not about just “earning” papers or citizenship, but the principle of belonging.

The Youngist explains why the DREAM 9 matter:

These acts of escalation are more than protests against inhumane treatment in facilities owned by private institutions – though they are certainly that as well. They are loud, clear, resounding cries to bring humanity into a system that is so clearly mislabeled as “justice.” And in their calls for humanity, we hear echoes of our own movements across the country and across the globe. if movements fail to recognize their struggles as intrinsically tied to those occurring in Eloy, Guantanamo, Pelican Bay, and beyond, they acknowledge and accept that organizing is not a right, but rather a privilege – administered only to those who already have the right to be seen and heard.

Attorney Matthew Kolken delivered a the ultimate punch-line to the media on the DREAM 9 to Fox News Latinos:

“I think this is the largest story in the history of immigration law,” Kolken said. “The only one that can rival this is the John Lennon deportation case. This is Rosa Parks sitting in the front of the bus.”

Commentator Ruben Navarette came out in support of the DREAM 9:

I’ve had my differences with the DREAMer movement. . . But I never questioned their sincerity, or dismissed anything they did as a stunt. I wouldn’t presume to tell people who put their freedom at risk along the U.S.-Mexico border that the difficult decisions they’re making are the wrong ones. And I certainly wouldn’t do it to protect an administration that doesn’t deserve protecting.

As of today, 43 members of Congress have signed on to a letter in support of the DREAM 9 and over 500 organizations around the country have come out in support including labor unions, faith groups, and every undocumented-led group.

I’ve heard a lot of names lately, including reckless, self-destructive, crazy, controversial, and my personal favorite, “diversion.”

You can call it whatever you want to call it.

I call it history.


DREAM 9 – America’s Political Prisoners

Now that we are clear that immigration lawyers are not the victims of a “broken immigration system” even though they love to act like it, this one is for more important and pressing matters.

This past week, two of the DREAM 9, Lulu Martinez and Maria Peniche, carried out an unprecedented “undocumented and unafraid” action at Eloy Detention Center. Now, Maria Peniche, is on suicide watch in solitary confinement while Lulu has been given “disciplinary segregation” for fifteen days as punishment. The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and several other organizations have condemned the use of solitary confinement as a way to retaliate against activists in immigration detention.

Blanca Vega writes in Latino Rebels about how the DREAM 9 are exposing many divisions in the weak coalition for immigration reform:

The Dream 9’s act of civil disobedience is not only shaming the President. It is also shaming divisive pro-immigrant groups and activists. More importantly, the courageous act of the Dream 9, is in fact, our national shame. The Dream 9 should have never felt propelled to do this in the first place. As a country, we have failed to protect them. We can change this. We must collaborate. We must stop shaming the acts of the Dream 9 and work toward their freedom and the freedom of all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S

The Human Rights Watch has come out with a strongly-worded dispatch in favor of the DREAM 9:

And beyond their detention, the Dream 9 are challenging the idea that their right to be reunited with their families should be extinguished with one step across the border. The immigration bill that recently passed in the Senate with strong bipartisan support recognized this as well: it allows for some immigrants with strong ties to the US to apply for provisional legal status even after they’ve been deported – a provision that does not appear to have the same support in the House. The US government should release the Dream 9 from detention. The Dreamers, alongside all the other deported immigrants with similarly strong ties to the US, deserve an immigration system that respects their right to come home.

I expect that the DREAM 9 will be given designation as America’s political prisoners by several other national and international bodies soon. And if they are not, they should be considered political prisoners by now. These are 9 young adults who grew up in America and their only alleged transgression is that they tried to come home by asking for parole and asylum, and were placed into detention for trying to do things legally, and then placed into solitary confinement when they tried to organize others who were similarly detained.

Friends at Culture Strike have started a great Tumblr for artists supporting the DREAM 9.


Please continue to send the DREAM 9 snail mail as they enter into their third week of detention at Eloy. Besides a spotty phone service, it is the only way in which they can communicate with the world outside. Los Dream 9 están leyendo sus cartas—más que 150 envíos! Por favor, sigan enviando su amor. Les da algo que hacer y compartir con los otros adentro.


Send the #Dream9 Snail Mail

I’m unavailable this week due to foreseeable false imprisonment, but if there is anything you can do, send the Dreamers a letter. All they did was try to walk home (and organized inside the jail) and now they are in solitary confinement. They may be expedite removed or force-fed or both this week, so it is essential to send our love, warmth and support as soon as possible. If you don’t know what to send, send them newspaper clippings, blog posts you may have written about them or even a book. You can also send them money — no cash, so they can call us once they are allowed to use phones again.