New Tactics As DREAM Deferred

Immigration Reform National Politics

Langston Hughes Poem
Langston Hughes Poem

Orange Beach When looking at the Senate’s Saturday work, it’s important to remember the difference between people who volunteered and those who didn’t.  In DADT we are talking about some protection and relief for brave men and women who volunteered to serve and die for our country.  The defeat of the DREAM Act would have provided some protection and relief for brave men and women who in fact did not volunteer to be in our country, but who were so young that they had no choice as their parents united the families in America.   DADT and DREAM actually had something in common because the involuntary young people could become citizens by volunteering to serve and die in the military.  This is all salt in the wound for these young people.

Some of the DREAM organizers said that they were going to follow some of the “NO” Senators back home to continue pushing for justice.  There was handwringing in the Times about how the Obama Administration would resurrect what has clearly always been a failed immigration reform policy.

Proponents of immigration reform should also need to revisit tactics and strategy, since much of what the DREAM vote was involved the political equivalent of playing politics with a “hail, Mary” pass.  From the minute the majority changed and Obama was elected, there were choices about whether to go “comprehensive” or carve out attractive and politically salable pieces of immigration reform, and passage of the DREAM Act was the lowest hanging fruit on the second strategy.   This is a case where in retrospect going big or going home meant going to a home country on the Obama deportation express if the bets were wrongly placed.

In the fall of 2008, making the big bet seemed right, but as early as spring 2009, the facts were probably already in hand arguing for radical changes in strategy and tactics for immigration reformers.    The cold realities of the situation were lay between slim and none.   When pressure from the base was ruled out as early as the Inauguration by the funders and powers that be, immigration reform was off the table for the first 100 days, when the chances were best with the consequences still years away and the surge of aspiration and power still strong.  Not moving to accelerate local fights in cities and states or target weak Congressmen on immigration in areas where the numbers in the base favored immigration reformers weakened the prospect within the first six months of any real reform.  By the Tea Party Summer of 2009 comprehensive reform for all intents and purposes was DOA, yet even so reformers seemed slow to embrace and advance the real movement and courage of DREAM act students were standing up and putting themselves on the line or to make the repressive excesses in Arizona or the widespread abuse and misuse of 287 (g) immigration police function subcontracting the new Selma’s or Marches to Montgomery.

Now it’s back to the drawing board and once again the strategy, I believe, has to be to go deep at the local level, find opportunities to repurpose reform at the city and state level for progressive reform in the same way that Arizona has manipulated reform for repressive measures, and then target and punish Congressmen, local sheriffs, and even Senators where the opportunities exist to send a message about re-elections, rather than moralities.  Taking down some big bear like Congressman Issa who I would argue is in a very vulnerable district on this issue would create shockwaves in Congress that would be impossible to ignore.

Coming late to the local targeting and base mobilization helped kept a heartbeat alive because of the leverage on Senator Harry Reid in the Nevada election.  We should have done this in scores of elections identified in 2009.  Hopefully we have learned a lesson and are willing to live it in the field.  This is not a DC fight.  This is a door-to-door, community-to-community, state-to-state fight with a DC rearguard in waiting to help when the job is done around the country, and not the opposite.  Lessons taught for sure, so hopefully lessons taken to heart as well.

There shouldn’t be any back slapping among immigration reformers about “how close we came,” because payback is going to be hell as long as the Obama Administration is triangulating this issue with the right and accelerating detentions and deportations, some of which inevitably will hit the best of the DREAM organizers.  Reformers need to stand up and create a sanctuary movement for these organizers now.

Organizing decisions always have consequences and a merciless accounting, even if they do not immediately have accountability.  In this case we may have started on the right foot, but didn’t step quickly enough on the floor when the music changed and the band was willing to play our song.  This isn’t musical chairs though, and everything is going to be harder now, but we need to use the next two years to keep from making the mistakes of the last two years and just hope we have another shot in the opening days of the 2013 session to finally make something happen for millions.