Note: This is a response to Tuesday’s hot-button Opinion piece by NBC Latino contributor Stephen A. Nuño, DREAM On: Immigration reform should not focus on Dreamers
On the heels of President Obama’s reelection and Speaker Boehner’s surprising announcement about a possible deal on immigration reform, immigrant rights advocates are already placing their bets on what we can expect with regards to a comprehensive immigration reform package.
Yes, the undocumented population is also joining in the discussion – but the sentiments are not the same to those shared in 2008, when most thought that President Obama would sign comprehensive immigration reform into law within the first couple of months of his administration.
In 2009, a national effort launched to help pass comprehensive immigration reform. This campaign operated under the guise of unity, where national organizations spoke on behalf of the undocumented community – stories were shared, support calls were being made, organizers were deployed to parts of the country in order to continue to catalyze the momentum for immigration reform, but most importantly, votes were being counted. For the first time since the Kennedy-McCain bill, there was legitimate hope for passage of a comprehensive reform package.
What derailed it? Well, it was a combination of President Obama spending all of his political capital on healthcare reform, growing extremism in the Republican Party, and a failed top-down strategy of the immigration reform movement (different from the immigrant rights movement). When faced with the possibility of failure, many “pro-migrant” organizations were quick to point out that this was an all-or-nothing fight – meaning that if comprehensive immigration reformed failed, then everything went with it. There would be no option to pass the DREAM Act as a standalone bill. Undocumented youth would eventually come to shoulder responsibility for “gutting” the comprehensive immigration reform bill by standing up to their “advocates” and putting the brakes on their “let everything fail” scheme.
Time and time again since the inception of the DREAM Act, it has been undocumented youth who have been pushed to the bottom of the barrel– forcing us to create our own spaces, our own strategy, our own tactics, and our own agenda, just so that we could later be talked down to for creating the tools that would enable us to grow. Why else would we fight deportations that many “pro-migrant organizations” would otherwise choose to pass on? Why else would we employ tactics that have never been practiced within this so-called movement? Why else would we operate with pennies rather than accept grants with all sorts of strings attached?
Everything that exists today for the pro-migrant advocates and “movement” leads back to the work of an underpaid, underrepresented, and unacknowledged undocumented youth (I do not subscribe to the “Dreamer” label). This includes accountability to politicians, especially leaders in the topic like Senator Reid and Congressman Gutierrez, the power of first-person narratives, creating a powerful social media presence, civil disobedience as a way to draw attention to the cause, representation of detained undocumented immigrants, and even the infamous deferred action for childhood arrivals (“DACA”) program, which is how President Obama won his second term. These are all things that we have done to change the conversation.
So when I come across articles such as this one, it makes we wonder – where exactly are we headed on this upcoming fight for comprehensive immigration reform?
I am no stranger to voicing what I believe – nor am I a stranger to being called a petulant child. But when claims are made about the “entitlement” and “suffering” of undocumented youth, I can’t help but jump in.
When someone has the audacity to suggest that there is not enough suffering on our camp, do they not realize that folks are still being deported by the truckloads, despite being possible Deferred Action beneficiaries? And that there is actually enough despair within immigrant youth that it leads some to take their own lives.
Is this not enough suffering? Enough that we, ourselves, have had to put our time and effort to serve our own mental health needs.
The fact is that we, the youth of this immigrant rights movement, are special. Special enough to not let ourselves be bought or bullied by anyone — not politicians, not “allies.” Nobody. We derive our “entitlement” out of nonsense that is published in the media, because at the end of the day it is we who got us to where we are today, it is we who are the litmus test to immigration reform by the way of the deferred action program. Were it not this very way, we would probably still be silenced in the shadows waiting for our “allies” to grant us permission to speak for ourselves.
I suggest that anyone who wishes to chime in the upcoming immigration debate take a deep breath and look both ways before crossing the street into the argument. Please wash your ego from any misguided sentiment that may continue to plague your mind, as we “may have been here before” in regards to immigration reform – but this time is a different ball game.
Nobody is foolish enough to think that achieving a comprehensive immigration reform will be easy, but you can rest assured that should said plan come and go with no results, we will try to push for a smaller reform – even if it’s JUST the Dream Act.
Juan Escalante is an undocumented student and recent graduate from Florida State University. He is a core-member of DreamActivist.org – an online organization that provides resources for undocumented students across the country. Escalante blogs his undocumented experiences at www.juansaaa.com.