Did You Know The Border Extends to the Beach?

Reportedly, hundreds of families who were unjustly deported or were forced to leave the U.S. are coming back home from South America, Central America and Mexico on March 10, 2014 through the San Diego, Tijuana border. Some of these families include the Valencia family, who lived in Arizona for 16 years and built a life there until they were forced to return to Mexico after the father was deported from the United States in 2010.

The protest, organized by The National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), is the third “Bring Them Home” action, which serves to highlight the 2 million deportations under the Obama Administration, and reunite families.

Dulce Guerrero, an undocumented organizer from Georgia, is in-charge of this campaign. She can be reached at dulce@theniya.org

Undocumented Activist Infiltrates El Paso Detention Center, Documents Rampant Abuse

Video Credit: The NIYA


I don’t know how Santiago Garcia-Leco managed to get detained, given he is eligible for Barack Obama’s deferred action program. But inside the El Paso Detention Center, Santiago, a queer undocumented organizer, found hundreds of cases of asylum seekers who had won credible fear, but were detained for months to await trial. The National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), joined by leading civil rights organizations such as GetEqual, Texas Civil Rights Project, and the Detention Watch Network, is demanding a full review of the detainees El Paso Detention Center.

In a video released by the NIYA, Santiago reports that “when no one is watching, ICE does whatever they want.” To give an example, he reveals how federal agents tried to get him to sign his own voluntary departure papers. Inside the detention facility in Texas, Santiago also found over 60 cases of individuals who have been granted credible fear, but denied parole into the United States, in violation of of Directive No.: 11002.1, as laid out by former ICE Director, John Morton. This directive went into effect January 4, 2010; however, the ICE leadership from the El Paso sector continues to ignore it:

“…[W]hen an arriving alien found to have credible fear establishes to the satisfaction of DRO his or her identity and that he or she presents neither a flight risk nor danger to the community, DRO should, absent additional factors, parole the alien on the basis that his or her continued detention is not in the public interest.”

NIYA organizers state that “it is alarming to hear of numerous instances where immigrants are being detained at the El Paso Detention Center despite the fact that they do not pose any security risk, are not a flight risk, and their detention is contrary to the public interest.”

This is not the first time that NIYA has infiltrated a detention center to uncover rampant abuse of detainees and immigration procedures. Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez from the NIYA infiltrated Broward Detention Center in Florida last summer. Through that action, the NIYA found hundreds of cases of abuse, which led to the release of many detainees and a Congressional letter demanding review of the facility.

After NIYA revealed the identity of the infiltrator, ICE at El Paso Detention Center kicked Santiago out of the facility. If Santiago, who does not have any paperwork authorizing him to live in the U.S., can be released into the general population, why not release all the parole eligible people?

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.

Update: #DREAM9 Detained at Eloy Detention Center. Make The Call To #BringThemHome


In a radical, transnational action at the U.S.-Mexico border yesterday, 8 “dreamers” walked up to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and asked to be admitted to the United States.

The initial DREAM 8 grew to DREAM 9, when Rosie Rojas, formerly from Tucson, Arizona, joined the action and presented herself to CBP. She went back later but thirty other formerly deported dreamers showed up, asking to come back home. CBP did not know how to react.

The DREAM 9 requested humanitarian parole as formerly deported Dreamers who should never have been deported or forced to leave in the first place. CBP waited until late at night to take them to the Florence Detention Center.

Update: As of now the 9 are at Eloy Detention Center. Keep making those calls.

You’ve to wrap your head around this one — and not just the political ramifications.

Three undocumented youth leaders left the country WITHOUT a visa, WITHOUT any sort of advance parole.

They brought back SIX other undocumented persons who had left the country previously or had been deported.

They ALL entered LEGALLY.

And now, they will be organizing hundreds of other detainees at Florence Detention Center in Arizona, getting legal status for many others while we make the calls to ERO and ICE to let them out of detention.

Why did they take this radical action? “Millions of families like mine have been separated for far too long,” Lizbeth Mateo wrote in a blog piece published by The Huffington Post on Monday. “I waited 15 years to see my grandfather again, and to meet the rest of my family.”

Put simply, the fight to end deportations does not end after deportation. We would not need to take this bold step if the Obama Administration was not deporting and ripping apart families every second at more than 1000 deportations per day. We would not need to take these actions if people were free to see their families on both sides of the border. It is time to bring them all home — they deserve to be home!

How You Can Help

  1. Join the real immigrant rights movement in one of the solidarity events happening across the country in Boston, Massachusetts, Cincinnati, Ohio, Pomona, California, Chicago, Illinois, Asheville, North Carolina. More will be added in the coming days.
  2. Make calls and send emails to release the #DREAM9
  3. Sign petitions to bring home the other dreamers accompanying the trio:  AdrianaLuisMariaClaudiaCeferino.
  4. This entire effort has not been funded by anyone but the grassroots. Donate to help #DREAM9 pay for calls to and from their detention center. You can now also make a tax deductible donation online to NIYA.
  5. Call your Congressperson and ask them to sign on to a letter of support being circulated in support of the DREAM 9 now.

If you support immigrant rights, you support our individual and collective agency to make decisions for ourselves and take the action necessary to stand up and fight back when our communities are under attack on both sides of an arbitrary border.

The promise of immigration reform — is simply an empty promise. While we sit and wait for Congress to act, families are being separated every second by Obama’s mass deportation and detention policies.

Bringing them home is just a start. I see the campaign as a BOLD intervention into the pervasive duality and dichotomy of everyday discourses regarding immigrants and immigration reform. The transnational border action challenges the dichotomy created between us and them, between legal and illegal, between “dreamers” and our parents, between home and not-home, between a “path to citizenship” and rights for all. Disruption of the hegemonic narrative is not just necessary; it is emancipatory.

After the disruption, is when the real work begins of building bridges, which for me is not a shady compromise but a metaphor for fluidity, change, channeling, multiple levels of positioning that culminate into a meeting point: we’ve to stand up and fight back against punitive policies, secure our own communities, reunite our own families.

Why I Support The Bring Them Home Campaign

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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 AdrianaLuisMariaClaudia, 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.

The Gang of 8 at the border wall in Arizona. Photo Courtesy: National Immigrant Youth Alliance

The Gang of 8 at the border wall in Arizona. Photo Courtesy: National Immigrant Youth Alliance

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:

  1. Show your support for the action through the Thunderclap before Monday morning.
  2. Sign petitions to bring home the other dreamers accompanying the trio:  AdrianaLuisMariaClaudiaCeferino.
  3. Reblog and share the videos by Lizbeth MateoMarco Saavedra, Lulu Martinez.
  4. Donate to help Lizbeth, Lulu and Marco as they come out of the shadows at the border with the other dreamers.
  5. 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.