Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
As the House GOP released their principles this week, immigration reform advocates cheered. After all, the release of principles is evidence that the House GOP is thinking about appeasing to a growing demographic, and that perhaps the beloved comprehensive immigration bill – S. 744 – is not as dead as we have previously pronounced.
After years of working on this issue and waiting for legislation, I remain more skeptical and believe we need to see actual legislation, and actual movement on legislation, before blindly praising either political party. I also think the President has the power and authority to stop most of the deportations. I believe the undocumented-led groups such as DRM Action, are in the same boat, and joined by the largest union in the country, AFL-CIO.
Some pundits were critical of Richard Trumka, son of first generation immigrants and leader of the AFL-CIO, for suggesting that the GOP principles were “fools gold” and that the President must act to quell the abysmal tide of deportations. After all, while we continue to negotiate immigration reform, the President could stop deportations, and he undoubtedly has the power to do so. A growing chorus of grassroots leaders, andeven House Democrats also want the President to stop deportations, so the AFL-CIO’s position appears to advance the interest of the community directly impacted by ICE raids, mass deportation and mass incarceration.
President Obama has presided over record deportations
But then Becky Tallent, an aide for Speaker John Boehner, accused the AFL-CIO of trying to kill immigration reform. Those who remember, Tallent was also opposed to stopping deportations while she was at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Other immigration lawyers who stand to benefit from immigration reform also attacked the immigrant justice advocates for being critical of the House GOP showing interest in reforms.
We’ve been down this road before. The AFL-CIO was blamed for killing immigration reform in 2007 for opposing an exploitative guest-worker program. Then, while I was working with United We DREAM in 2009, we were blamed for killing immigration reform simply for trying to put together an undocumented youth-led organization. The next year, in 2010, undocumented youth who came out, shut down streets and protested at the Capitol for a standalone DREAM Act, were blamed for killing immigration reform. Last year, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) was accused of killing immigration reform. Recently, Erika Andiola and Caesar Vargas from the DRM Action Coalition, have been accused of trying to kill immigration reform.
It’s juvenile and absurd to accuse immigrant justice fighters and those who have been directly impacted by the immigration system of trying to kill reforms that would better our lives, or the lives of our parents and community members. Also, it has gotten boring. We aren’t in high school anymore, and actual lives are at stake here.
No one besides the extreme Right, which includes FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA, is trying to kill immigration reform. The rest of us seek freedom and justice. You cannot kill an idea, and sooner or later, they will learn.
House Democrat leader, Nancy Pelosi and the House GOP remain at odds about immigration reform, even while they have been tasked with resolving this issue. Perhaps it is time to stop pointing fingers at one another and hold the people in power accountable — President Obama for his record deportations, and the House GOP for dragging their foot on this matter.
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.
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/DZjaeN4. 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.
He can be known as the Abraham Lincoln of undocumented immigrants. But thus far, President Obama’s record on immigration is depressing and dismal.
For someone working on building a racial justice movement, one would imagine that a headline such as that would mean we are royally screwed.
President Obama is nearing 2 million deportations, and estimated to reach 3 million by the end of his term. That is a quarter of all undocumented immigrants in the United States. Many such persons deported have significant ties to the U.S. and many are spouses and parents of U.S. citizens. Even while the federal government was shutdown, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was deemed essential, and continued to deport persons at a rate of 1,100 per day, tearing apart black and brown families and communities.
As Congress emerges from the shadow of shutdown, the President has taken the opportunity to try and put immigration reform back on the agenda. While we desperately need some sort of immigration reform, many see this latest attempt as a way to divert attention from the record-breaking 2 million deportations under his Administration, and a way to pander to certain demographics for the mid-term elections rather than a genuine effort to undertake real reform before the next government shutdown on January 15.
But here is the real problem. In its current frame, the pursuit for comprehensive immigration reform is a complete failure for both racial justice and real immigrant lives. It is reform without justice.
One of the greatest victories of right-wing extremists such as the Tanton Network has been to push professional immigration reform advocates to adopt right-wing talking points. As such the entire immigration reform debate is framed along the binary of good immigrant and bad immigrants. Since 2005, immigration reform advocates have waged a national campaign for comprehensive immigration reform on the premise of exchanging a militarized border wall, privatized prisons and increased surveillance for a pathway to citizenship for a limited number of undocumented immigrants. Under the current frame, the 11.7 million who are undocumented and aspiring to be American have to “get right with the law,” “get in line,” speak English, pay fines, and pay taxes in order to gain some sort of legal status in the U.S. These are professional messaging points that bear no truth and no justice for immigrants.
Instead, the good immigrant and bad immigrant frames has hurt advocacy for racial and immigrant justice. For example, when immigration reform advocates hold up banners saying “We are Not Criminals…” they inadvertently buy into the notion that certain demographic groups are criminals. When they emphasize a pathway to citizenship at the expense of basic human right to live, work and travel, they willfully ignore what citizenship means for a young, black man such as Trayvon Martin. When they criminalize and exclude various categories of immigrants from the blueprint for immigration reform, they make it harder to ally with movements for criminal justice and racial justice.
Besides, most of the immigration reform agenda ignores and feeds into the real problem — many white people are petrified of the rapid demographic changes occurring in this country, mostly due to immigration from Latin American countries, which have been devastated by neo-liberal globalization policies. They do not like that the country is becoming more brown. However, instead of constructively talking about race and the devastation caused by U.S. foreign policies that lead people to move here, professional immigration reform advocates have tried to pacify these white racist fears with the discourse of “aspiring Americans.” The message is that the 11.7 million will just assimilate into the “melting pot” of the United States and won’t threaten white supremacy and white privilege.
Of course, it is beside the point that not a single undocumented person actually identifies as an aspiring American in real life. As Junot Diaz put it, we actually cannot be certain that people stop being immigrants. Perhaps many of the 11.7 million will integrate much like the previous amnesty, but not because the 11.7 million necessarily want to be American voters but because most of them just want to work, drive, travel, take care of their families and be left alone by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Yet, despite this salient assimilationist rhetoric, comprehensive immigration reform is not going anywhere. And that is mostly because the campaign messaging is predicated on a series of lies that does not inspire faith or confidence among undocumented immigrants who cannot relate to it.
The other strategy–placating to the extreme right-wing nuts at the GOP–does not help matters. Staunch defenders of President Obama’s terrible immigration record state that the GOP is the real problem and the reason why the President has had to take a tough stance against immigrants, ramping up enforcement numbers, in order to sell immigration reform to them on a bipartisan platter. However, if the recent government shutdown has shown us anything, it is that compromising with whiny hostage takers is a bad idea. In order to win on policy matters, well-meaning immigration reformers have to stop focusing on winning elections for the Democrats who bear just as much responsibility for draconian deportations and immigration detention system, and start focusing on playing both sides.
But comprehensive immigration reform is just one vehicle for those of us who are more interested in immigrant justice and less interested in winning elections for the Democrats. Our fight for immigrant justice is not just about Latinos — it is about everyone who is racially profiled and treated as second-class in a country that is supposed to be the land of the free and home of the brave. In order to cut through the current impasse on immigrant justice, immigrant rights and criminal justice movements, as in brown and black people, need to recognize their shared experiences, common goals and build a racial justice movement. Everyone pays lip-service to black/brown solidarity but it has not translated into anything meaningful for the thousands of black and brown persons who are increasingly incarcerated in our jails, prisons and detention centers. Without actively working and building alliances in black communities, non-black immigrant rights advocates threaten to isolate themselves from those with whom they have the most in common.
We have much in common with the black community and the movement for criminal justice. Sometimes, this solidarity is wrongly expressed by labeling immigrant rights as the “new civil rights movement.” This is yet another example of how mainstream immigration reformers have no racial justice compass. Instead of falling into the trap of calling ourselves the “new civil rights movement” and faking civil disobedience actions for history books, we need to build solidarity not on literal comparisons of our oppressions, but on our shared experiences with the system.
As undocumented persons, we are part of a community that is targeted, racially-profiled and criminalized in jails across the country. Various states such as Arizona and Alabama have tried to make our mere existence a crime. Prosecutors across the country seek criminal convictions for black and brown persons before trying to deport us. The Department of Homeland Security is currently building databases of young persons who are possibly “gang members” and running a “risk assessment” on every undocumented person in order to exclude such persons from immigration reform. It is impossible to rehabilitate ourselves and our communities out of such a situation by hailing that “we are not criminals” and “we are aspiring Americans.”
As such, immigration justice seekers need to have a critical dialogue on race and stop compromising with racists. Before all else though, we need the President and his latest nominee for DHS Secretary, Jeh Johnson, to stop the deportations.
Forget time is now. Time has passed.
Several immigrant youth, who have been leaders in the undocumented youth movement in the United States, have crossed the border into Mexico, and plan to turn themselves in alongside other undocumented youth who left or were deported from the United States at a border crossing. With applications for legal admission in hand, they will demand to be allowed to return home to the United States.
Immigrant youth leaders currently in Mexico include Lizbeth Mateo, Lulu Martinez and Marco Saavedra. Lizbeth grew up in Los Angeles, and she had not seen her family living in Mexico for fifteen years. Lulu Martinez came to the U.S. at the age of three, and has spent years working for immigrant rights and LGBT rights. Marco Saavedra is a poet and a painter. He graduated from Kenyon College in Ohio, and now works at his family’s restaurant in New York City. All of them have been living in the United States since before the age of 16, and would otherwise qualify for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). However, none of them have been granted DACA, and thus, are most likely inadmissible from the United States.
So why did these leaders take such a big risk in leaving their homes?
The NIYA website reads: “The Obama Administration has created a deportation machine resulting in the destruction of over 1.7 million lives, and the devastating separation of those families by the border. Those 1.7 million people are not lost and forgotten; rather, they are people who deserve to have the choice to return to their home in this country.”
Among these 1.7 million are Adriana, Luis, Maria, Claudia, and Ceferino, all of whom will accompany the trio. They are young people who grew up in the United States only to find themselves forcefully removed to Mexico, while leaving behind families and communities in the United States. All 5 of them will now seek to legally return home.
I’m not as courageous as Lizbeth, Lulu and Marco. I wouldn’t buy a plane ticket to my home country and then ask to be brought back in protest with other deported peoples. What our friends have done is taken an extremely risky course of action — by putting their lives on the line — in order to reunite families.
For years, we have received emails, phone calls, videos from many persons detained and deported by the U.S. government, often for no reason other than the fact that they grew up in this country, were racially profiled, pulled over for driving without a license, sent to jail, detention and then removed. In many instances, such persons had family, legally residing in the United States. In other cases, after waiting for years for relief, individuals left the U.S. in pursuit of a life elsewhere, only to find out that they could not come back legally into the country, even when they exercised proper legal channels.
Last summer, when Lizbeth Mateo first told me about her plans for leaving the country to bring some deportees back through proper channels, I listened, numb at first at the prospect of losing one of my best friends to the other side of the border, a border that I could not cross.
When she finished explaining her course of action, I simply nodded, hoping she would not carry it out, but knowing that she would stop at nothing to do what she felt was just.
“You do what you need to do. We’ll figure out how we can bring you back,” I told her.
Two weeks ago, at my DREAM wedding, my fellow undocuqueer pride, Lulu Martinez, asked me what I thought about the action, because she was considering doing it too. After I told her my thoughts, I watched in awe as she tied up unresolved matters at home, told her parents she was leaving for Mexico, bought a plane ticket and went to Mexico, a country she has not seen in over 20 years.
And then Marco Saavedra, who is currently in removal proceedings, and perhaps one of the most beloved figures in the movement, decided to join them on the other side of the border.
Part of this courage and support for the campaign comes from knowing, as an undocumented person, that you cannot enjoy the freedom to live in the United States, if you don’t have the freedom to leave the United States. Persons who have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence are subject to 3 and 10 years bars, and thus, rendered inadmissible. Due to these bars for unlawful presence — which won’t be changed by the current immigration reform legislation — many undocumented youth grow up feeling trapped by borders because we cannot leave our families and simply return to our countries of origin. This is especially hard on persons in mixed-status families. If your grandparents, parents, spouse, siblings and children reside in the United States, stepping out — even to pursue legal means of re-entry — often means never seeing them again, in all likelihood.
Another factor in my support for Bring Them Home is professional responsibility and ethics. I know as a future immigration attorney that if my client wants to fight their case in a certain way, my job is to figure out how to get it done, and not try to talk my client out of it beyond spelling out all the consequences of the action. Anything else is lazy lawyering. You want to self-deport? Alright, no worries, here is what will happen to you if you do. And after giving you a list of the most terrible consequences I can draw up, including death because you are either queer or a member of a persecuted indigenous group in Mexico, if you still want to leave the country, then it is my job to figure out how to bring you back home. Otherwise, I see little point in the expensive law degree on my wall.
Third, my support for the Bring Them Home campaign stems out of being a good ally to the immigrant rights movement. At this point, with my virtually undeportable status, I have to follow the lead of those who are most directly impacted by draconian U.S. immigration laws and policies, and specifically laws that divide families. Knowing that undocumented youth have already changed the course of history and the face of immigrant rights by taking bold risks from sit-ins to stand-ins to infiltrating detention centers, I trust that these “crazy petulant kids” as they are sometimes called pejoratively, know precisely what they are doing.
Additionally, Bring Them Home exposes how both Democrats and Republicans have long held immigration reform hostage to “border security.” As part of the immigration reform package, the U.S. Senate passed the infamous “border surge amendment,” which many immigration advocates have termed as “border overkill” as it mandates $47 billion dollars to go towards 700 miles of border fence construction, 40,000 additional border agents, drones, Blackhawk helicopters and VADER radar systems, before the 11 million can gain citizenship. These border security triggers will make the U.S.-Mexico border the most militarized zone in the world where 7 million U.S. residents will be subjected to living in a war zone. Bring Them Home is an opportunity to stand up and show Congress that our communities should not be subjected to war, that we must resist border militarization, and that we are actually not at war with Mexico.
It would be remiss not to mention that Bring Them Home presents us with another way to approach immigration reform. Perhaps, instead of thinking about giving people papers in order to give them some rights, we should be extending rights to everyone regardless of their immigration status. The brave and courageous actions of our undocumented friends is a crucial pivot from the dying breed and failure of comprehensive immigration reform discourse. It goes beyond the mere rhetoric of creating a “pathway to citizenship” by questioning what citizenship is about and by reuniting families and fueling dreams across borders.
Lulu, Lizbeth and Marco are placing incredibly faith in our laws, in our sense of justice, and in our ability to do the right thing for them and the 1.7 million deported by Obama’s deportation regime. If they fail to make it to the United States, it is not their failure. It is our failure to respect, honor and uphold human life, human rights and dignity, and the joke is on every American who thinks they live in a free country while voicing their support for the empty promise of “immigration reform.” Besides, if we cannot bring 8 people home, through proper legal channels, I am not sure how we can validate or pass immigration reform to legalize 8 million.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I support bringing them home because I believe that another world is possible — a world where rights do not stop at borders, and where people are given equal rights under the law even if they find themselves in a place that is not their home.
Here is how you can help:
- Show your support for the action through the Thunderclap before Monday morning.
- Sign petitions to bring home the other dreamers accompanying the trio: Adriana, Luis, Maria, Claudia, Ceferino.
- Reblog and share the videos by Lizbeth Mateo, Marco Saavedra, Lulu Martinez.
- Donate to help Lizbeth, Lulu and Marco as they come out of the shadows at the border with the other dreamers.
- Organize local actions in your communities. More information on this will be forthcoming from The NIYA.
Bringing them home is just a start.
Please note: Nothing in this post denotes legal advice or is offered in substitution of advice from a lawyer. Success is not guaranteed and different people have different results.
As the Senate gears up to introduce immigration reform bill, keep in mind what is not in the legislation.
Justin Feldman and I co-wrote this piece after mutually observing the appropriation of queer undocumented youth and LGBT organizations for comprehensive immigration enforcement, a proposed reform that could exclude millions while ramping up militarization of the border and creating the most punitive immigration enforcement system.
Thus far, leaked details of the legislation reveal that the Senate legislation will require the federal government to meet certain border security benchmarks before any undocumented immigrants can receive a green card. The bill also requires that applicants prove they were in the country before December 31, 2011. The proposed legislation also eliminates the F-4 visa category, such that siblings of U.S. citizens would no longer be eligible for green cards, while creating a “new merit-based” program for high-skilled workers.
No mention of much-needed detention reform, ending Secure Communities, eliminating the unlawful presence bars, and so on.
Exclusion is never neutral. The struggle continues.