Was there a DREAM versus Secure Communities Immigration Deal?

CeciliaMunozBuenos Aires        I want to share how exciting it was to be with the organizing committee in the Isidor Casanova district of the mega-slum, La Matanza, yesterday as they planned their first major campaign to clean up the fouled, garbage laden dump that their river has become, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.  Working with these Uruguayan immigrants now living permanently in Argentina, made me think even more about the twists and turns around immigration and immigrants in the USA this week while I have traveled.

Earlier in the week there was major concern about the continued backward, and repressive, direction that the Obama Administration has taken around immigrants in the United States and its mouthing of reform while it mandated repression.  Loud cries of anger and protest rose at the announcements of a toughening stance by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over the controversial and coercive Secure Communities program which too often has been a fast track to criminalizing economic refugees rather than violent interlopers, as well as a tool for the worst among us on these issues like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other wannabe police officials that Secure Communities forcibly impresses into being immigration cops.  Some states, many cities, and other political jurisdictions have refused to comply with Secure Communities, rejected its attack on human rights and civil liberties, and refused the money, while the Administration has continued to force feed the program regardless and upped the ante in doing so recently.  Illinois and some other jurisdictions have continued their resistance, but clearly a deeper and perhaps more cynical politics is at work.

What seemed especially traitorous was the endorsement of Secure Communities in a hearty embrace by Cecilia Munoz, who has been a shining light for immigrant rights and before joining the Obama Administration after the election, one of the clearest and most effective voices for change with friends and allies in all sorts of organizations.  We certainly counted ourselves proudly among them at ACORN.   One of my friends speculated earlier this week about whether Cecilia had jumped to this conclusion or been pushed.

Yesterday’s announcement that the Administration will use “prosecutorial discretion” in dealing with deportation cases involving children who have been in the USA virtually all of their lives because they were brought here by their parents, perhaps illegally, families of servicemen and other divided family situations, those trying to serve in our military or attend college or similar situations, and instead only focus deportation procedures on criminal elements with records, gang membership, or similar problems essentially implements much of the promise of the DREAM Act.  Advocates estimated this could impact up to 2 million immigrants in the USA now.  Senator Durbin of Illinois, who has been a consistent and courageous advocate of the DREAM Act, was more subdued and guessed it might impact 100-200,000.  Anyway you count it, the announcement is a major step forward in alleviating a huge injustice and moral insult on the deepest principles of America.  DHS’s Napoliano was quick to point out that it doesn’t change the need for real reform or the DREAM Act, and for the first time in a long time, I have to say I absolutely agree with her on that point!

This is all temporary, and the President is making clear through these actions not only that he wants to hide behind Secure Communities on his right flank, but also that Latino and other voters in 2012 have to see him as the thin line between coming and going for immigrants and their families in this beleaguered category.

Though the details have not emerged, there can’t be much doubt that this was a deal that had Cecilia’s fingerprints all over it, while leveraging Senator Durban big time along with Majority Senate Leader Harry Reid, who still needed to deliver for the huge lift he got from Latino voters in his Nevada re-election last fall.  Obama never seems to understand that you have to give as well as get in politics to hold support, but Munoz, Durban, and Reid all understand the political equation only too well and no doubt knew the anger and frustration at losing everything was disillusioning if the only hope was the thin one of taking back control of Congress.

This was a classic velvet gloved fist political deal.  Give some relief to the the more innocent victims of our failure to enact DREAM and immigration reform, while hitting immigrants hard where they live and work, day after day, in their communities.  As NDLON attorney, Chris Newman, remarked on twitter last night, the new announcements on careful reading, still have moved to criminalize all immigrants in the USA.  The foot has been lifted from some necks with “prosecutorial discretion,” the principle continues to press down on all immigrants that the foot is still there, hovering, and can fall with any misstep or political push in an opposite direction.

There’s little doubt in my mind that Cecilia and the Senators crafted a deal, and it’s definitely better than nothing, so that’s something to celebrate.  Thank goodness Obama is facing an election, so he had to finally deliver something.  The sad part of it has to remain, that this is the best that all of their work on the inside could deliver.

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Building a Movement to Win the DREAM

pass-dream-actNew Orleans As part of Paladin Partners, Drummond Pike and I spent an invigorating and productive day meeting in Washington with Carlos Saavadra and Gaby Pacheco, two of the principle organizers behind the courageous and expectation-challenging push for the DREAM Act, which culminated in a near miss in Congress late in 2010.  It is fair these days to describe a lot of the work around critical immigration reform as stalled and stuttering as the forces of reform count the bleak prospects for a vote in Congress and try to reposition and find consensus for a future.

Not so for proponents for the DREAM Act.   This is not to say that some of the troops around the country are not demoralized and depressed, but is to say that the organizers are still moving aggressively and adamantly refusing to accept the possibility of delay or defeat.    Talking to Gaby and Carlos only days past their meeting with over 200 student activists from the United We Dream chapters in Memphis, the old axiom of organizing that acknowledges that when you have a real base, there’s never a choice but to keep fighting was proven once again.

The DREAM team understands that the political stalemate in DC does not dictate the strategy, but whether or not they can build the movement, the heat, the leverage, whatever one might call it, to trigger the change both locally and nationally.  Below the radar for example the visibility and inspiration produced in 2010, have inspired half a dozen fights even in these times of austerity to provide tuition for DREAM-type immigrant students at the state level in places as diverse as Maryland and Colorado.  And, bet on this, they will hang some new scalps on their belt in some of these states, which will help recharge the movement.

As exciting to me is the fact that they are thinking deeply and strategically about ways to continue to force their “story” (as Gaby continually called it) into the political and cultural equation at the grassroots level in 30 or more locations around the country in coming weeks and months.  The stories are compelling, because there is no way to get around the fact that these young people are the classic “innocent victims” of our national systemic policy failure.  Planted in a country through no agency or action of their own, they do their best to adapt and succeed in the new country’s terms until they hit the wall or in many cases the very high ceilings of their aspirations.  Then everything comes down to their status and it is hell to pay.  In building a movement the first key ingredient is the ability to establish “moral superiority,” and this they have in spades.

I wouldn’t bet against them when you look closely at their record to date and when you consider their desperation.  They don’t have time to wait, especially given the astronomical increases in deportations under the Obama Administration.

Before meeting the DREAM organizers I had a cup of coffee with a colleague working with Casa de Maryland, the huge immigrant rights and service organization.  She had a perfect metaphor for the crises in immigration reform.  She described all of us as reaching out of the water to grab at the reform being waved above our hands by the Obama Administration (think Tantalus in the classic Greek myth going for the grapes) and finally looking down to find that we had been eaten away from legs to waist by the deportations in the immigrant community while our eyes were skyward.

They have a shrewd fightback strategy on the deportations and the solid understanding that this is something that President Obama can and should do and the willingness and urgency to push him hard and directly to make it happen.

They are counting their friends and targeting their enemies and organizing widely and deeply outside of DC, in fact Carlos though still executive director of United We Dream has relocated back to Boston to keep it real.

We’re betting they can keep the DREAM alive, and so should you!

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