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.

How Queer Undocumented Youth Built the Immigrant Rights Movement

I don’t usually give a damn to what DC immigration groups do because ain’t nobody got time for that. That is true until someone tries to re-write my history. And that is precisely what straight, white, cisgender and clueless male Frank Sharry, who is best known for running several failed political campaigns, does in his racist Washington Post column.

The columm is racist because it marginalizes the existence and work of queer undocumented youth. The column is also racist because Sharry is essentially implying that the people of color immigrant rights movement learned tactics from the white gay movement, which is highly problematic and inaccurate. And as a straight male, Frank should shy away from ever using phrases like “It is time to go gay on their ass” because that is just plain old heterosexism (and inappropriate).

Now, the Washington Post was willing to post his 1800-word vile and depraved white racist ignorance, but unwilling to post our response, which was written with the input of over a dozen past and present immigrant youth leaders. The beauty of the massive social media network and presence that we’ve built is that we don’t need racism-enabling networks such as the Washington Post to respond with truth.

This column was initially titled “Frank Sharry Didn’t Build That.” But he isn’t important enough to be a title in anything I write so the response is how queer undocumented youth built the immigrant rights movement.

Because we did.


I’m always fascinated with how Ruben Navarette hits the nail on the head but he’s actually not pinning two things together.

In due time, I’m sure the institutionalized youth part of the non-profit industrial complex will come out with some “strategic messaging” to counter this. They may even hit the nail on the head with some headline that resembles “we are fighting for our families and communities” and yet, fail to give a counter-narrative to Mr. Navarette.

Mr. Navarette is essentially right when he calls certain “Dreamers” entitled. There are certainly some in the so-called movement who think they are better than “the hardworking and humble folks who cut your lawn, clean your house or care for your kids.” He is also on the mark for noting that this entitlement exists because “Dreamers” are American. What he doesn’t divulge into is the entitlement that it takes for Americans to occupy a stolen land, make laws that exclude people from citizenship on the basis of race, gender, and sexuality, and demand that people assimilate to become a part of the fictionalized narrative of the American dream.

Why would anyone be surprised then, that some “Dreamers” act that very same way, with a better-than-thou mentality? They are mostly Americans after all. They are bound to have a “I am better than you” mentality. In order to become part of the fabric of America, “Dreamers” do need to show that they are better than the other kinds of immigrants. They need to show “exceptionalism.” And they need to show that they are not a threat to the establishment in order to become part of it. They need to show that they are essentially American. And in doing so, there will be people who get thrown underneath the bus.

But there is more going on here, in terms of entitlement. I’m sure that the same was said about the people of color who sat at the front of the bus to desegregate it, the people of color who took over lunch counter-tops at segregated restaurants and the people who wanted their kids to attend a whites-only school — “entitlement.” I am not drawing parallels to show that the situation “Dreamers” find themselves in is similar to segregation and apartheid. I am drawing parallels to show that minorities have historically been told that they are “not in their place” and think they are “entitled” when they start agitating for more than just crumbs.

Entitlement is not new or confined to Dreamers. This better-than-thou mentality comes from those in power. It comes from living in unequal conditions. And the history of oppression– ranging from lord and serf to master and slave to haves and have-nots–signals that such unequal conditions not only dehumanize and denigrate the ones at the bottom. They also dehumanize and denigrate the ones at the top, stripping them of both humanity and power. For real social transformation to happen then, certain people need to lose a lot of power that they feel entitled to and certain people need to gain power that has been historically denied to them. It is that entitlement to privilege and power at the top that prevents us from moving forward — not “Dreamers” with their demands to a pathway to citizenship.

Obama’s Immigration Announcement Creates New Generation of “Undocumented and Unafraid”

President Obama’s directive to affirmatively issue deferred action to DREAM Act eligible youth is fostering a new generation of “undocumented and unafraid” students who will be spared from deportation. But it isn’t just young people who are coming out in throes. It is also our parents.

At the National DREAM Graduation in Washington D.C., which was the largest gathering of undocumented students ever, Alejandra Pimentel, an undocumented mother, addressed an audience of undocumented youth. She spoke about fighting her son’s deportation, and shared some great words with the young people in the room, telling us that her dream was our success and that we should never give up. She told us that because of us, she was undocumented and unafraid.

But Pimental is not the only mother who is coming out as undocumented and unafraid. Across the country, at community gatherings, workshops and town-halls about the new deferred action program, undocumented parents are showing up in large numbers with their undocumented and U.S. citizen children to gain some understanding of what the new Obama announcement does for them.

This bold new coming out by undocumented parents is ironic given that young undocumented immigrants have often been accused of being selfish for advocating for the DREAM Act as opposed to comprehensive immigration reform. Maybe we have always been right. Maybe piecemeal immigration reform is the way to go, adding ingredient by ingredient till everyone can share in the pie. Undocumented parents coming out of the shadows to seek some sort of status for their kids certainly cements our claim that our dreams were never selfish–they are in fact, tied to the dreams that our parents had for us in bringing us to this land of opportunity. And deferred action for DREAMers is emboldening them as much as young people into coming out of the shadows.

I was at JEB Stuart High School in Northern Virginia last week, helping my law firm conduct a workshop about deferred action for members of the community and over 400 parents showed up to listen intently, ask questions and seek help for their children. We stayed for over 3 hours and ran out of our materials. The next day, our phones at the office did not stop ringing.

While some organizations are discouraging young immigrants and their parents from seeing immigration attorneys regarding the new program, within the last week alone, we’ve told a DREAMer that he is in fact, a U.S. citizen, assisted someone in registering for the GED, discovered an in absentia order of deportation, discouraged a DREAMer from engaging in marriage fraud, and discovered a entire undocumented family that should have received their green-cards a long time ago. An undocumented mother told me last week after consulting with our law firm that she was finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. It is thus, critical, that we should straddle the fine line between warning people of scammers and notarios, while encouraging people to seek legal advice.

At, we released a FAQ explaining deferred action, which received over 10,000 downloads within a couple days. Well over a thousand people have emailed to ask whether they are eligible for the program and to request legal support for more complicated cases. For perhaps the first time, people who were not already “undocumented and unafraid” are coming out to seek legal advice regarding their immigration history, and that is a good thing that we should all encourage especially since it is quite likely that many people qualify for far more than just deferred action.

Additionally, the renewed coming out is not restricted to community forums and law firms. The USCIS has already stated that the parents of everyone granted deferred action will not be put into deportation proceedings, so there is nothing to fear by seeking information. The government agency reports getting over 75,000 calls concerning the program. They have hired over 100 new staff to process applications, which could take anywhere from 5 to 9 months. Despite criticism that DREAMers would take away jobs from American citizens, the new program is already creating jobs for Americans.

From undocumented and unafraid, we are increasingly becoming documented and unafraid. Immigration attorney, Andres Benach, has suggested that by applying and receiving deferred action, young immigrants and our parents will further integrate themselves into American society. We would have driver’s licenses, social security numbers, and jobs. We would be able to rent apartments, go to college, buy homes, pay more taxes, take care of our parents, invest in our communities, get married and have children.

As our roots grow, it would be much harder than it is now to uproot us from America and the appetite for the social disruption of deporting us will will decrease exponentially. Hence, even if a Republican such as Mitt Romney is elected to office, it is doubtful that she or he would order the deportation of millions of DREAMers, along with our families. Congress will have to act as it did with NACARA, and grant permanent residency to DREAMers living in an amorphous legal state under deferred action.

Thus, I believe that any future DREAM Act would be short, simple and sweet: anyone granted deferred action under the premises of the DREAM Act or anyone who was eligible for DREAM Act deferred action in 2012 shall be eligible for permanent residency.

If you haven’t come out as undocumented and unafraid, come out of the shadows. The only thing you have to lose is your chains.