Welcome Civil Disobedience for Immigrant Rights

Yesterday, we marched. Then, we voted. Now, we will take on civil disobedience. Tomorrow, we shall overcome.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered around the country on Saturday, May 1, to agitate for the DREAM Act, call for an end to deportations, show their opposition to the draconian SB 1070 passed by the state of Arizona, and demand a more just and humane immigration reform.

The mood and message separated these protests from the staged and scripted one held in Washington D.C. on March 21. Grassroots advocates were angry about broken promises, calling out the Obama Administration with “Obama, where is the reform?” placards. Earlier in the week, President Obama had admitted that Congress did not have the appetite for change. But the people that showed up on May 1 were certainly hungry enough to take on civil disobedience for much-needed change.

Civil disobedience is not new to the immigrant rights movement, and it never really went away. The Sanctuary Movement, organized by faith leaders, helped an influx of Central American refugees in the 1980s, pledging not to reveal their identities even if they were arrested and jailed. Many of them were persecuted by the Department of Justice; nonetheless, the movement changed national policy. It is noteworthy that the leaders of this movement first got together in Arizona, and now Arizona marks the start of a new era, led by immigrant youth who marched out of schools and onto the streets in protest of SB 1070.

From the Capitol Nine in Phoenix chaining themselves to the doors of the Arizona Capitol building to the Trail of Dreams New York conducting a die-in at Senator Chuck Schumer’s office, a new era of civil disobedience is here. And now, even the politicos have adopted this tactic, with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-I.L.) and 35 others getting arrested in Washington D.C. on Saturday.

Maybe, instead of saying “Arrest me, not my friends,” the messaging should have been “Deport me, not my friends.”

Tactical escalation is great for media hype, but winning requires strategic thinking that the action in D.C. lacked, once the Trail of DREAMs students from Florida stepped back from getting arrested. That would have created a great opportunity to gain more traction from a crisis. Instead, the narrative was upset by Rep. Gutierrez and other D.C. politicos, whose arrest was a nice show of solidarity with undocumented immigrants, but did not carry much weight. Nonetheless, combined with other acts of civil disobedience propping up about the country, we may just see the re-emergence of a progressive left that Jane Hamscher has declared dead.

In the meantime, the good news is that an immigration legislation bill is finally in the works. The actual challenge is reconciling civil disobedience and the hungry calls for “no human being is illegal” with Senate Democrats who are crafting a bill that does criminalize immigrants with an enforcement-first framework.

Video Credit: DrudgeReportUSA

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