DREAM Act: December 2010 Archives

If you haven't noticed, my co-blogger, David Bennion, has been blogging up a storm during the holidays.  I haven't seen him this active since he was at change.org, and I don't know if I've ever seen him this on point.  That's saying a lot for Dave.

I started blogging after the DREAM Act vote, but ended up taking more time for my family as the holidays approached and for the next week I'll try to completely disconnect myself from a computer as I spend time, as our family has done for generations, now, in the Bay Islands of Honduras.  On January 5, 2011, I should be back and more ready then ever to use this space to make change.

Before blogging and the news cycle picks up again after the holidays and the only message the mainstream media remembers about the politics of immigration is "Obama championed DREAM Act, GOP killed it," there is still some space for an alternative version of events. And if one Dreamer's version is any indication, Dreamers themselves may not be on board with Obama's story of how things happened.

I hope that President Obama will listen to Dreamers instead of using them as a campaign prop. Here is an excerpt from DREAMer to President Obama: Thanks but no thanks

While Obama in recent months has supported the DREAM Act and putting his whole cabinet to work in gaining the votes necessary to pass it, Obama was deporting DREAMers' families through his anti immigrant and hypocritical policies. Even after the DREAM Act was blocked by Republicans the administration stated that Dreamers will continue to be deported by Obama's administration. Was his support for Dreamers strictly a political move to gain approval among latino voters? Obama's anti immigration stance was very clear to us earlier this year when Arizona passed legislation that legalized racial profiling and funneled families into the private prisons who lobbied and funded the legislation. Obama also resisted in challenging Arizona's SB 1070 until he was pressured by civil rights organizations across the country.

One thing is very clear to DREAMers across the nation, that Obama is not a friend but another politician and a target for this movement. Obama we are undocumented and unafraid how about you? Will you tremble when we come in hundreds to your doorstep and see the lives you have helped destroy? will your guilt lead you to make amends for your violations against the families that walked and talked for you in your election?

Hector Lopez.jpgDreamer Hector Lopez was deported earlier this year to Mexico. He'd been brought to the U.S. as an infant and hadn't known he had no legal status until he was arrested this year by immigration agents. He came back across the border in an act of desperation and was detained upon reentry. He applied for asylum, but was only released recently through the efforts of advocate Ralph Isenberg. He was reunited with his family in Portland yesterday.

I keep watching for evidence of a policy shift from DHS on their current practice of locking up and deporting DREAM Act-eligible youth, and wondering when President Obama's actions will catch up to his words of support for Dreamers. Hector was arrested in August, after Julia Preston reported in the New York Times that the administration had stopped deporting Dreamers. John Morton, head of ICE, claimed in the article:

In a world of limited resources, our time is better spent on someone who is here unlawfully and is committing crimes in the neighborhood . . . As opposed to someone who came to this country as a juvenile and spent the vast majority of their life here.

Evidently ICE has decided that Morton's statement represented a vague aspirational observation that wasn't translatable into concrete policy or practice. Or, less charitably, it was a lie.

While it's true that, in limited cases, ICE has exercised favorable discretion to allow Dreamers to stay in the U.S., in the majority of cases, Dreamers in removal proceedings have been treated no differently than anyone else. Even in those few instances where the agency has chosen not to deport, ICE has only been swayed after intense organizing from supporters and activists has resulted in national media attention and support from politicians. It's unfortunate that Preston's story from this summer seems to have become the conventional wisdom--it was even cited in a recent decision (pdf, FN38) by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in support of a legal argument--because it simply isn't the case that ICE has adopted a policy to stop deporting Dreamers.

Hector was a Dreamer and he was deported just like thousands of other undocumented youth this year who didn't have access to the network of Dreamers and allies that have held off ICE in a handful of cases. President Obama's words in support of Dreamers ring hollow in the face of his agencies' coordinated efforts to deport as many DREAM-eligible youth as possible. I hope that Hector's release from detention represents a change in policy in how DHS processes Dreamers, but I fear otherwise.

Hector's story as told in the Oregonian represents one happy (and possibly temporary) outcome out of thousands of stories of heartbreak and family separation this Christmas:

Hector Lopez of Milwaukie walked off a Southwest Airlines flight Christmas Eve into his mother's arms at Portland International Airport, returning from a four-month deportation odyssey to Mexico even though he did not know until he was arrested that he is not a U.S. citizen or legal resident.


His mother, Sara Flores, and his 15-year-old brother, Luis, grabbed Lopez and hugged him tightly as they cried together; still and video photographers captured the scene as dozens of arriving passengers swirled around the reunion. Friends brought signs and balloons.

Obama pensive.jpgPresident Obama publicly committed today to passing the DREAM Act in 2011. He called the recent vote blocking the bill in the Senate his "biggest disappointment." White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said that grassroots activism will be essential to getting the DREAM Act passed.

Hearing these comments, I had to scratch my head. I have seen a lot of grassroots activism around the DREAM Act over the last couple years. Some of the most intense organizing has come from communities fighting to keep individual Dreamers from being deported ... by President Obama's immigration enforcement agency, ICE.

I have consulted on several such cases, and represented Dreamers directly in a few. In nearly every case I've seen, ICE fought tooth and nail to keep Dreamers locked up and get them deported. ICE attorneys often took harsh litigating positions with the goal of moving Dreamers out of the country as quickly as possible. ICE deportation officers often shut down requests to release Dreamers to pursue removal defense outside of detention.

ICE wouldn't budge on Steve Li's case last month, refusing to release him from detention even after his case got national attention and support from Dreamers around the country. He would likely be in Peru right now if Senator Feinstein hadn't introduced a private bill in the Senate, which put an automatic hold on Li's deportation.

In other cases, ICE refused to back down until a case got national media attention and the support of Senators.

Mark Farrales is detained right now in California, waiting to be deported. He came to the U.S. when he was 10 after his father was shot by gunmen in the Philippines. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and was working on his doctoral dissertation when he was arrested by ICE.

I'm going to continue the pro-migrant on-the-ground organizing work I've been doing in Massachusetts in Maine, but I'm hoping to make more time for the blogging I've recently neglected moving forward.  This is because I feel there needs to be an honest public conversation critiquing the pro-migrant movement up to this point, as well as a healthy discussion about how to move forward.

A small disclaimer before I begin: my voice, as always, is a small one among giants, particularly the giants of the migrant youth movement.  I agree with my co-blogger, Dave, when he says "Let DREAMers lead, allies must follow."  A big part of why I don't feel the need to blog anymore, is because I don't feel my voice is really needed with DREAMers speaking so loudly for themselves, these days.  Still, I'm hopeful that my humble thoughts will be useful to some.  As always I welcome thoughts and critiques, and am always open to changing my mind. 

There's been lot's of proclamations about never forgetting the Senators who voted against the DREAM Act on Dec. 18, 2010, but not a lot of clarity about exactly who to hold accountable.  Some people are saying Republicans blocked the DREAM Act, others are going hard after Democrats who blocked the DREAM Act.  I even made a slight mistake.  In referencing the five Democrats and 36 Republicans who blocked the DREAM Act, I neglected to mention the one Democrat and three Republicans who didn't even feel the DREAM Act was worth showing up for to vote on.  I don't know what's a greater form of disrespect, voting against us, or not even considering us worthy of showing up to vote for.  Even worse, all of the Senators who failed to show up to vote all publicly stated at some point or another that they would vote against us.

What follows is my analysis of exactly who to hold accountable in 2012 and why.  I will try to narrow down the list of 45 Senators who stood against us to a select group that I think we have the most power to influence going into 2012. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled two unexpected developments out of his pocket this fall: he became a champion of the DREAM Act in Congress, and he secured victory over his opponent by a margin that no one had foreseen. I propose that these two events were related, but not in an obvious way.

Nativism Causes the Nevada Tea Party to Self-destruct

Politicians and pundits speculated that Harry Reid owed his victory over Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle in November because Latino voters were energized. Angle had run a series of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino ads which won her notoriety for running one of the most racist campaigns of the election season. One ad prompted the View's Joy Behar to taunt Angle to come to the Bronx in one of the election season's more memorable TV moments.

In the ads, Angle alleged that Harry Reid was "the best friend an illegal alien ever had." In one ad, she went after DREAMers directly, claiming that "Harry Reid is fighting for a program that would give preferred college tuition rates to none other than illegal aliens." This specific ad was almost certainly created in response to Reid's highly public effort to pass the DREAM Act shortly before the ad was run.

The narrative that emerged during the late stages of the campaign from both the left and the right was that Harry Reid had pandered to--or responded to--Latino voters in Nevada by announcing his intent to attach the DREAM Act to the defense authorization bill in September. Reid knew that by promoting a bill that would legalize hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children, he would mobilize Latino voters who could provide the margin of victory he needed against Angle. So he made a public statement of intent to bring the DREAM Act forward, knowing it would polarize the Senate and inject immigration politics into the Senate race in Nevada.

In retrospect, it was a brilliant plan. Staging a public push for the DREAM Act, which many voters had never heard of before September, was like waving a red flag in front of a bull for Angle and her Tea Party supporters, driving them to embarrassing outbursts of nativism. It seemed they couldn't help themselves. Rachel Maddow called the anti-DREAM Act spot the "most overtly racist ad of this campaign season."

These explicitly anti-Latino attacks in turn mobilized a previously disaffected Latino electorate in Nevada which had been upset with Democratic leadership for ignoring immigration reform. Latino voters came out in force and voted for Reid by a high margin--between 68% and 90% depending on the source. Reid won by 5.6%, mobilizing Latino voters to turnout in record numbers against all predictions.

Perhaps it was Reid's plan all along to pull out the DREAM Act late in the campaign to construct the "Latino firewall" that by some accounts saved his job. But maybe there is more to the story.

Thumbnail image for UrielIt's been hard for me to set fingers to keyboard to organize my thoughts about yesterday's Senate vote blocking the DREAM Act. I have a lot of thoughts and emotions swirling around inside right now. Even before the vote, I felt stymied--anxious about the bill's prospects, angry at the obstinate ignorance displayed by opponents, and frustrated at my own feelings of powerlessness.

If there is any cause for optimism in this dark moment, it is that the DREAM movement has now come into its own. Dreamers will never again be token poster children held up to support someone else's agenda--the enforcement first, legalization later agenda unsuccessfully promoted by President Obama, Democrats, and national advocacy groups.

That agenda failed, the plans that others made for Dreamers failed, and at the end of it all, advocacy groups and politicians jumped on board the DREAM Act bandwagon because it was the only legislative vehicle that was moving, the only one that had even left the factory. And the primary reason the DREAM Act got as far as it did this legislative session was because of the activism of Dreamers: the hunger strikes, the 1500-mile Trail of Dreams march, the acts of civil disobedience targeting key legislators, the Dreamers coming out to journalists, and hundreds of other actions around the country planned and executed by Dreamers themselves.

As we look for a way forward, it is important to think about what has worked and hasn't worked so far. With this in mind, I want to address a few key groups.

To my fellow pro-migrant allies and advocates:





Above are Renata and Ada repping the Student Immigrant Movement, which I am a proud member of, but see this post from United We Dream for more reflections from the leaders of the migrant youth movement.

By now you've probably heard that the DREAM Act was blocked in the U.S. Senate by five Democrats and 36 Republicans.  Before I continue I want to be clear about what happened: 

Everywhere I look mainstream media who up until this point as all but ignored the migrant youth movement is writing headlines like "DREAM Act Defeated", "DREAM Act Fails",  or "DREAM Act Dies."  The DREAM Act did not fail, the U.S. Senate failed the DREAM Act.  Only in very recent times has a passing vote of 216-198 in the U.S. House and a vote of 55-41 in the U.S. Senate meant failure.  I'm not going to get sidetracked into a diatribe about filibuster abuse in the U.S. Senate, right now.  I just wanted to tell everyone who feels the same emptiness in their stomach that I do, right now, that you didn't fail, the broken procedures of the U.S. Senate failed you. 

At the same time, for those of us that are committed to real business of making change in this world, we know that we're not dealing with the world as we'd like it to be, but with the world as it is.  In the world as it is, we needed 60 votes out of 100 in the undemocratic U.S. Senate in order to emancipate of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented Americans.  We all knew we needed 60 votes, and we didn't get them.  There will be plenty of time to analyze why we didn't get those 60 votes, but right now I just wanted to lay out some steps I think those of us in the movement should be taking.  I say all of the following first acknowledging my own 24-year-old inexperience and shortcomings in these matters.

We welcome back guest poster Mark as he deconstructs some of the nativists' cherished arguments against the DREAM Act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has filed for cloture on the DREAM Act and the Senate will vote on it tomorrow.

"Illegal is illegal, and the "the law is the law" are two of the more common phrases that the anti-immigrant crowd likes to spew as the say-all/end-all reasoning, when it comes to a conversation about reforming the broken immigration system. Just look at any online article concerning the issue of immigration, scroll to the bottom, read the comments page, and sure enough there it is! (most of the times in ALL CAPS with a gazillion exclamation points, just to add that extra emphasis in pretending their argument is practical). Of course the only problem is that it isn't much of an argument at all. At best, it's a blatant fallacy in reasoning. Anyone having taken a basic logic class should be able to understand that concept.

So even when it's dressed up a bit:

"If such actions were not illegal, then they would not be prohibited by the law."

...only equals out to:

"X is true. The evidence for that claim is that X is true."

It's an unsound argument at best, which is most certainly NOT rationally persuasive.
Of course irrationality seems to be the rage these days, as it seems rational thought is something that's hard to come by. I can just imagine what else these rationality-inept anti-immigrant comment posters must say or post elsewhere. "Ice cream is ice cream. Yes I said it: ICE CREAM is ICE CREAM, damn it!!!!!!!!!!! Therefore I'm right and I win the argument."

Seriously now, really...that's what their position is based on? Two i-words: illogicality and ignorance.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the DREAM Act category from December 2010.

DREAM Act: November 2010 is the previous archive.

DREAM Act: January 2011 is the next archive.

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