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, 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.

D.C. Council Approves Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Residents

DC Mayor Office Action

Undocumented immigrants in the District can get drivers licenses from May 1, 2014. Alas, the driver’s licenses will be different from the ones issued to D.C. residents.

I am personally glad to have pushed for one license in D.C., and thus, changed the debate from whether the undocumented should get licenses to whether the licenses should be equal in nature.

Marybeth Onyeukwu, a friend and fellow D.C. resident states:

“The community is so desperate for relief that we could not in good conscience kill the driver’s license bill. The fight is far from over. We will continue fighting until all DC residents are treated equally with dignity and respect. With all that said it is a shame that DC council could not stand up for the community.”

Salvador Sarmiento from NDLON agrees:

“The bill passed today is a significant step toward restoring access to basic services and reducing the threat of deportation for DC’s immigrant residents. It makes our streets safer and our communities more secure. People in the district will be able to arrive at their jobs and bring their children home from school without constant worry. Yet the marking on the license singles out DC’s undocumented residents and opens up potential discrimination and targeting, especially outside the district. The community effort that brought the issue forward will continue to advance immigrants’ rights in the district. Until we have equal access for everyone and recognize that we are ‘one city’ that deserves one license we have much more work ahead of us.”

The lesson for immigration reform advocates from the District’s fight for immigrant licenses is not that pushing to the left is alienating, but how it is a winning strategy. I think pushing to the left made this D.C. license debate not about whether or not to grant licenses to the undocumented, but how to do so in a manner that respects the dignity of the undocumented while challenging insidious laws such as REAL ID. We tried. We sat in the Mayor’s office for one single license. We got the D.C. Coalition for Immigrant Rights to listen. Together, we had the bill amended to one license, unanimously. We had it sail out of committee. We even got it through the first read without a single dissent.

At the end of the day, we were betrayed as DHS lashed out at Councilmember Cheh, bullying the Council on retracting its support for the one license policy. I think it was a worthwhile fight that demonstrates that we can stick to our principles, and still notch a win for our communities, who need a license to drive, regardless of whether it is marked or not.

The fight for equality and liberation continues.

Why I Sat Down In the D.C. Mayor’s Office for One City, One License

DC Mayor Office Action

From Left to Right: Isabel Castillo, Roxana Bendezu, Prerna Lal, Lizbeth Mateo, Marybeth Onyeukwu

Last week, Mayor Vincent Gray of the District of Columbia, introduced a new bill to allow undocumented residents of the District to obtain driver’s licenses and ID cards. This legislation might represent a great step forward for equality and safety in D.C., except that Mayor Gray has decided to create a separate class of driver’s licenses to be given only to undocumented residents.

As an undocumented D.C. resident, I sat down in Mayor Gray’s Executive Office, along with some friends, to ask the Mayor to change his mind and issue the same license for all residents, rather than creating a two-tier system that would label, stigmatize and unfairly mark undocumented residents of the District, risking more violence and discrimination against us.

Because undocumented residents cannot currently obtain driver’s licenses and ID cards in the District where we live, work and attend school, we face a myriad of hardships and injury. We are routinely targeted for robbery, since we carry large sums of cash that we cannot keep in the bank. We are constantly denied housing since we cannot produce proper identification and documents. We risk trouble with law enforcement every time we drive our loved ones to the hospital during an emergency, or our U.S. citizen children to school. If we have legal problems, we can’t get and subsidized help for our Pace Law Firm bill. These problems, and many others, are unlikely to be ameliorated by a two-tier licensing system, because it exposes undocumented residents of the District to federal immigration enforcement efforts and creates a way to target us when we are in neighboring states that are not as generous to undocumented residents.

The Mayor’s Office stresses that the reason for the discriminatory two-tier licensing provision is the federal REAL ID Act of 2005, which sets forth certain standardized requirements for state driver’s licenses and ID cards to be accepted by the federal government for “official purposes.” These requirements include proof of legal status before a state or the District can issue driver’s licenses and ID cards to residents.

At first glance, this may seem to be a gigantic problem, but it is a rather tiny hurdle. First, the Mayor’s Office is interpreting the REAL ID regulations incorrectly. States do not need to comply with the REAL ID as it is not a federal mandate, but has an opt-out provision. States that issue licenses that are non-compliant only risk that the licenses would not be accepted for federal purposes such as at airports, and federal buildings.

Second, per the REAL ID regulations, D.C. is already not in compliance with the federal law. The narrow REAL ID regulations provide for driver’s licenses and ID cards for persons who have lawful status in the United States. However, the regulations render several categories of persons who are lawfully present but have no lawful status in the U.S. ineligible for licenses such as persons with withholding of removal, persons with an order of supervision, persons with a pending cancellation of removal application, and so on. D.C. currently provides licenses to these persons, in violation of the REAL ID regulations, without marking such licenses with a different label such as “not valid for federal purposes.”

Third, regardless of the myriad of exclusions imposed by the REAL ID, the law is not in effect and is unlikely to go into effect anytime soon. In fact, even the constitutionality of the REAL ID Act has not been litigated yet, which means that not only can the actual law wind up in court for many years, but that parts of it can be stuck down as unconstitutional. It belies common sense to implement licensing provisions to comply with a legislation that is not in effect, and that may not withstand constitutional inquiry.

And finally, D.C. has a long history of non-compliance with unjust federal laws and mandates. The D.C. Council was one of the first legislative bodies to renounce REAL ID and pass a resolution urging the repeal of the REAL ID. And just last year, D.C. Council passed a law to restrict the enforcement of the federal Secure Communities program in the District.

There are simple solutions that resolve any purported conflict between the proposed two-tier licensing system and the REAL ID Act. The D.C. Council can propose that until it is required to be in compliance with the REAL ID Act, everyone would be given the standard ID. Alternatively, every D.C. resident should get IDs that state “not valid for federal purposes” as the standard practice while those persons who need or require an ID valid for federal purposes can already obtain an enhanced ID under D.C. Code § 50-1401.03.

Since D.C. does not have home-rule, some critics in the Mayor’s Office and elsewhere have lamented that there is no point to passing such amended legislation as Congress would simply overturn it. This is, once again, hyperbolic and politically ignorant speculation. In fact, Congress won’t touch the legislation with a ten-foot pole for several reasons.

First, Congress has left untouched more controversial measures coming out of the D.C. Council that are not in line with federal law, such as restricting Secure Communities and providing for marriage equality. Second, Rep. Eleanor Norton (DC) and several Congressional staffers do not believe that Congress would act to overturn a D.C. transportation provision at time when a bipartisan group of Congresspersons are working on sweeping reforms to the immigration system. Third, Congress does not have to act in order for the licensing provision to become law. Congress would simply have to fail to overturn the bill within 30 legislative days, which is very likely, given their well-known aptitude at failing to pass legislation.

Separate is not now, and never has been, equal. It is time to treat all D.C. residents equally, and disband with the two-tier proposal that unfairly targets, stigmatizes and enables profiling of hard-working, undocumented D.C. residents. If we are indeed supposed to be one city, then we all deserve to have the same license.

For more info. on the One City, One License Campaign, please see DreamActivist D.C. and join our Coming Out of the Shadows Action on May 9th, 2013 at 3 PM, at Freedom Plaza.

Crossposted at Huffington Post

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