Recently in Organizing Category
[Undocumented activists occupy Obama campaign office in Oakland, CA / Image: Krsna Avila]
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano today issued instructions to federal immigration agencies not to deport undocumented youth who meet certain criteria. The criteria are based on the provisions of the proposed DREAM Act. President Obama announced the policy change at the White House soon afterward.
The new policy, if implemented, would provide temporary relief to many undocumented youth in the United States. Undocumented organizers who fought for their rights and their communities deserve the credit for today's policy change.
But I worry that this announcement, like those before it, is intended to improve poll numbers more than to benefit undocumented families. I am skeptical because DHS is institutionally oriented towards deporting people and because this administration has made deportations its number one immigration policy priority. Serious questions about the new policy remain unanswered.
Update 6/22/12: Click through for a Spanish translation of this post.
Here are some pros and cons of the new policy guidance:
The Obama administration has criticized the GOP's "attrition through enforcement" immigration policy framework while adopting it in practice. Undocumented activists have reduced their reliance on politicians and the advocacy community by strategically creating a quasi-legal status for people who publicly identify themselves as undocumented.
Attrition Through Enforcement
Immigration restrictionists have promoted an "attrition through enforcement" policy as a purportedly more humane alternative to mass incarceration and deportation. Instead of identifying, arresting, imprisoning, and deporting every undocumented immigrant in the U.S., the objective of attrition through enforcement is to make life in the U.S. so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they leave on their own. An aggressive campaign to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to live in the U.S. would be logistically and fiscally unworkable and would necessitate massive human rights violations.
Imagine armies of tens of thousands of immigration enforcement agents scouring the country for people unable to produce papers, internment camps set up to house millions of immigrants awaiting deportation, and millions of U.S. citizen children left parentless overnight. This would be the administration's current enforcement policy implemented on a much larger scale, causing severe economic and social disruption that would extend far beyond the immigrant community.
Restrictionists understand that the domestic and international public backlash from such a campaign would undermine their long-term goal of reducing overall immigration to the U.S. Restrictionists know it is impossible to fully enforce the laws they wrote and shepherded through Congress. Attrition through enforcement aims instead to drive out immigrants by creating a climate of fear and by steadily eroding basic rights. The concept is as pragmatic as it is reprehensible.
In deportation defense work, immigrant rights organizers can work most effectively to stop a deportation when they collaborate with a reliable immigration attorney. Viewed from another perspective, an attorney can often better serve his or her client with the help of organizers. However, complications can arise with this type of collaborative work.
In recent years, collaboration between organizers and attorneys has most commonly involved Education Not Deportation (END) campaigns to stop the deportation of undocumented youth. END cases were rare before the summer of 2009. Now the federal government routinely agrees not to deport undocumented youth who would qualify for the DREAM Act, were it to be enacted, and who reach a certain threshold of visibility and public support. (The government routinely deports tens of thousands of DREAM-eligible youth who remain invisible to the public--and even some who have strong public support.)
I have worked on several END cases since 2009 as an immigration attorney. In my experience, an END case has the best chance of success when an attorney works closely with organizers and the client's existing support network. Attorneys have access to and relationships with immigration officials that organizers and family members usually lack. Organizers have the trust of the community and are not afraid to directly challenge the government. Organizers, attorneys, and others worked together on the early END cases and created the existing END model. Organizers and attorneys are better able to stop deportations when they work together.
Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Communication between the attorney and organizers sometimes breaks down, to the detriment of the client. Attorneys sometimes have a limited view of what is possible in a given jurisdiction, failing to acknowledge successes in similar cases elsewhere. Attorneys can be too cautious, apprehensive of damaging delicate relationships with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys or deportation officers. Out of habit, attorneys can shut supporters and organizers out of the case, foregoing the collaborative model for a "what I say goes" approach. It's worth taking a closer look at how and why these problems arise, and what can be done to address them.
I greatly value the work that Immigrants' List does, and encourage folks to donate to them. We need more pro-migrant PACs like Immigrants' List, and we need more money for them if we ever hope to have a pro-migrant impact. Of the ten heroes Immigrants' List cites, I agree with their selection of the other nine heroes. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), however, has to be one of the worst pro-migrant politicians in the country. That is to be distinguished, of course, from some of the worst nativists in the country, like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
There are few more difficult people to write about than the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (gotta give the man all his titles). MLK has long since become more about the people invoking his name, than about the man himself.
If I were to recommend one short article to read on MLK, today, it would be this 2005 Harvard Crimson article written by Brandon Terry, a friend, and one of the wisest people I know. He writes about the intellectual strands of MLK that have been long forgotten, namely "elements of Third World radicalism, black nationalism, and Marxism." Brandon also gives one of the best recommendations I can hope to give, on this day, to those who are interested in learning about the real MLK. Read the book "A Testament of Hope," a collection of MLK's writings which has effectively become my MLK bible.
I should end this post here. I'm tempted to say that if you haven't read through "A Testament of Hope," you have no business writing or even thinking that you know what MLK is about.
Yesterday, Cecilia Muñoz got promoted, and another 1000 people got deported. The Obama administration deports over a thousand people, every day, more than any administration before by many counts. The Obama administration tells us most deportees are criminals, nativists say it's not enough, but the truth is the vast majority of those being deported are noble people, heroes even, who are seeking a better life for themselves and for their families, and who make those they live among better off.
If the idea of over a thousand deportations a day doesn't strike you as cruel, make no mistake, only a violent system can forcibly remove that many people a day. Economic, psychological, spiritual, and physical violence are all involved, from the terror migrant communities live in, to the moment ICE agents bust down the doors to peoples homes, to the horrific conditions in which people are imprisoned, to the shackles and drugs used to force people onto planes. If you've gotten to know just one person caught in our broken immigration system you'll know the violence that these laws are doing to the strangers among us. It's the law, nativists will say, but as the wise have said for as long as imperfect human laws have existed, an unjust law is no law at all.
Increasingly, the Obama administration has made Cecilia Muñoz the face of this violent and unjust system and I say that without condemnation.
The overall agreement on focusing on border security first is just filled with lies and logical fallacies. It's a lie to say that communities along the border aren't safer than they've ever been, and it's a fallacy to believe that you can stop unauthorized migration across the border without fixing the broken immigration system. What's worse, people who have done the research on the border have shown that beefing up border security has probably done a lot more to keep unauthorized migrants in than to keep them out. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately in this case, politics has never been about truth, but about power.
ACTION: Donate to the Student Immigrant Movement
I just received an email from the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM) and I wanted to share it with people and encourage them to donate. Before I share the email, though, I just wanted to provide some context.
If you're reading this and you haven't heard my story, yet, I recently updated it, here. The short of it is that I got connected to the pro-migrant movement by blogging but it was actually the Student Immigrant Movement that taught me how to make real change. Carlos Saavedra, who is now with the National Coordinator of the United We Dream Network, was the one who taught me how to organize.
'You are lucky, you must be a citizen. . . aren't you?' the police officer at the jail asked Martha Vazquez, 22, just as she left an interview with ICE. Martha was one of the youth arrested hours earlier at the campus of San Bernardino Valley College.
The catch is that Martha is undocumented, in fact hours before she was at a protest publicly declaring her legal status. Everyone knew she was undocumented. The police and even ICE knew she was undocumented, but they all made a conscious decision not to turn her or any of the youth arrested over to ICE authorities.
The reason for this is simple, ICE authorities are scared of DREAM-eligible youth. If you are public, if you share your story and you are out then ICE is afraid of you. They are afraid to detain you knowing the backlash it would create in the community. They are afraid to come after you because they know we can effectively fight against our deportations and stop them.
This is the reason why we urge all undocumented youth to get active, the more active you are the safer you are. While in jail the youth met many other undocumented immigrants who were not as privileged as them, people who are still in jail and will most likely be detained by ICE.
ICE has power over our communities because they know we are afraid of them. Think for a moment, what would your community look like if the undocumented immigrants there were no longer afraid of being detained by ICE? If they no longer had that fear and could come out of the shadows everyday. Think about it.
We will continue to organize until we reach that point. We hope you will join us.
All of the work we do is completely volunteer run, unlike some organizations we are not funded by any foundations or corporations. If you enjoy or support the work we do please consider making a donation.
Thank you for your support,
co-founder of DreamActivist.org
If you haven't read it, yet, Michael Barbaro's article in the New York Times provides a clear window into how change is made by describing Cuomo's behind-the-scenes maneuvering to make same-sex-marriage a reality . That's the sort of leadership we need in this country.