Immigrants Must Lead the Immigrant Rights Movement
I don't know how we are going to do this time around. Maybe we will get to stop all the deportations of dreamers. Maybe we will pass CIR. Maybe we won't get legal status. If we don't, it will officially mark the beginning of the Great Latino Depression. I got sick to my stomach watching Fox News today, and seeing the complex anti-immigrant narrative being built. Kidnappings in Mexico, trouble at airport security screenings, live coverage from a burning house in Phoenix, AZ. There is a political campaign already well underway in the right-wing network.
I'm not sure our story can compete, the way we are telling it.
Next time we get a media request to write an op-ed or appear on TV, we gotta send Carlos, not Ali. Rachel, not Deepak. Olga, not Clarissa. Samantha, not Angelica. Tania, not Josh. Mohammad, not Markos. Faby, not Kent. Tolu, not Shu. Adey, not Marielena.
It's not about the dream kids. Kids no more: the things we have done and the things we have seen turn girls into women and boys into men. It's about getting these young women and men of the dream generation to the forefront of the movement. That's how we are going to change the way Americans analyze the question of our lifetimes: immigration.
The U.S. public is not ready for comprehensive immigration reform on the terms on which it is currently being presented. The story is wrong and the players are wrong. The story is built on the nativist narrative of the past 30 years, that the U.S. is a sovereign nation with an obligation to enforce its borders, and that Mexicans and Central Americans show particular disregard for U.S. immigration laws. The players in the current presentation are politicians and advocates, not the immigrants and family members who immigration policies affect.
That is why most politicians and most of the public doesn't care about immigration reform.
First because they don't understand the real story: the focus on border security and the dumbfoundingly complex immigration legal system is this generation's manifestation of the perennial American effort to exclude nonwhites and first generation immigrants from civic and economic participation. (More broadly, this represents the perennial human effort to exclude people who are different from themselves.) And the current focus on Mexicans and Central Americans is no accident. After the U.S. Congress shut down transatlantic immigration in 1924 in a fit of nativism, Mexicans were permitted free, illicit entry to provide American agriculture and business with a cheap, exploitable workforce. Central Americans entered the picture in the 1970s and 1980s as U.S.-supported governments killed their citizens and scattered large numbers of refugees to the wind.
Second, the public doesn't know the right players, namely all the undocumented activists Matias mentions and more. They don't know them because they often pass as citizens. Or are forced into the shadows by the fear of lifelong exile from their families and communities.
But these things are changing, as DREAM Act-eligible immigrants, or "Dreamers," come out of the shadows to take their rightful place as leaders of the immigrant rights movement. Now, will the immigrant rights movement let them lead? This question will be moot once Dreamers realize they don't need to ask permission.