DREAM Now Letters Recap: The CHC Has To Stand With Migrant Youth, Not Against Us

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The “DREAM Now Series: Letters to Barack Obama” is a social media campaign that launched Monday, July 19, to underscore the urgent need to pass the DREAM Act. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, S. 729, would help tens of thousands of young people, American in all but paperwork, to earn legal status, provided they graduate from U.S. high schools, have good moral character, and complete either two years of college or military service.  With broader comprehensive immigration reform stuck in partisan gridlock, the time is now for the White House and Congress to step up and pass the DREAM Act!

Today marks the completion of the second week of the DREAM Now series. I am sorry I was not able to get a letter out on Wednesday.  Too much travel and not enough sleep led me to come down with a soar throat and a fever on Tuesday.  Thankfully, I’m starting to recover, today.  If you’re not getting enough of your DREAM Now fix I recommend reading Matias Ramos’ post on why he stood up during Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) speech at Netroots Nation.

Thanks in part to the supporters of the DREAM Now Series,  Reid is now on board with pushing DREAM Act this year.  Most of the credit for turning Reid, of course, should go to courageous undocumented youth activists for their civil disobedience in Reid’s office and making their presence known during his appearance at Netroots Nation.  While Reid still needs to be pushed, most of our efforts to get the DREAM Act enacted, this year, should now shift towards securing the last few mostly Republican Senate votes we need.  The National Council of La Raza has a list of Senators who have not yet publicly committed to voting for the DREAM Act.  If your Senator is on that list, you better start getting to work. 

Before all of our efforts move towards securing mostly Republican votes for the DREAM Act in the Senate, however, there is one last set of important supposed “allies” that have yet to voice their support for passing the DREAM Act this year and, according to Congressional leadership, are actually obstructing it from happening: the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). 

Those of us in the migrant youth movement have long known that the CHC has been a barrier to passing the DREAM Act on its own.  The supposed defenders of migrant rights in Congress can, in fact, be an enemy of migrant youth.  This uncomfortable fact was spotlighted for the entire progressive blogosphere to see during Nancy Pelosi’s remarks on the DREAM Act to Netroots Nation:

You mentioned the DREAM Act…There is a difference of opinion about how we go forward on that.  In our House we are committed to comprehensive immigration reform.  Our Congressional Hispanic Caucus doesn’t want us taking one piece, you know, taking a piece that might be appealing and leaving the undocumented behind. 

So we–our principles are secure our border, enforce our laws, protect our workers, don’t exploit workers coming in, but have a path to legalization for those who are here, not fully documented.  And if we take off some of the rosier pieces of it, the thought is that it would diminish the prospect for comprehensive immigration reform. 

Others have a different view, “let’s just run with it if we can get it passed.”  That’s a debate we have.  But our Hispanic Caucus is of the comp–[rehensive view?]–and I support that…That’s why we haven’t, while we’re all co-sponsors and all support the DREAM Act don’t want it to diminish our prospects for dealing with the undocumenteds in our country.

Nancy Pelosi – Netroots Nation (24 July 2010) 

If you want to hear this sort of rhetoric straight from the mouth of the CHC, watch this video and read this transcript put out by thedreamiscoming.com.  In it Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus says this:

Every time someone says the whole thing cannot pass, only part of it, it weakens us, it divides us, it confuses us, it scatters us all over the place. we once had a united movement for comprehensive immigration reform, now we don’t have a united movement, and that is causing, that is detrimental to the movement for all of us.

Luis Gutierrez – The DREAM Is Coming (20 July 2010)

There is a lot to dissect here but the most important points are the following. 

First of all, to force another generation of unauthorized migrant youth to give up their lives for the broader movement is exploitation, pure and simple.  This is especially true when undocumented youth themselves and many of their undocumented family members are against it.  Politicians using undocumented youth as the engines for comprehensive immigration reform are no better than the exploitative employers of undocumented workers. 

Second, not only is it exploitative to make this argument, but it is strategically wrong.  Getting the DREAM Act passed this year will not weaken the fight for immigration reform, it will strengthen it.  No one questions the fact that undocumented youth are the strongest and most sympathetic leaders of the migrant rights movement.  Why not allow them to earn legal status so that they can fight even harder for their family members and communities?  I know I’m not leaving this fight after the DREAM Act is passed and I can say that for just about everyone that I know whom I consider a leader of the undocumented youth movement. 

Finally, and this is a point that no one else talks about, everyday that we wait to pass the DREAM Act is another day where potential migrant youth leaders are being deported, lost to “attrition”, or even to death or suicide.  Anyone who stands in the way of some sort of relief from this violence, now, is not an ally, but an enemy. 

Within those three simple truths there is a lot of complexity, part of which I will try to address here. 

First, I will address Luis Gutierrez, specifically, since I quoted him as being representative of the CHC, and on immigration, for the most, part he is.  While I believe the CHC can be an enemy of migrant youth, as a whole, I don’t yet consider Luis Gutierrez, personally, an enemy of migrant youth.  I say this because there is no politician currently in U.S. Congress that has done more to advance the cause of migrant rights.  When he introduced CIRASAP he also co-sponsored the DREAM Act, a major nod to the migrant youth movement which I was appreciative of.  After some pressure, he also ended up doing the right thing by saying he’ll inclue LGBT families in CIR.  Many undocumented youth leaders also identify as queer.

Because of these extremely important steps, I’m willing to give Gutierrez some leeway, but I have to say that he was wrong in trying to talk down undocumented youth in the middle of a historic action.  His implication that undocumented youth are dividing the movement is also wrong.  Mohammad Abdollahi said it best:

Congressman Gutierrez, my name is Mohammad, I was one of the youth that was in the sit-in in Senator McCain’s office, on May 17 in AZ, as a result I have been placed in deportation proceedings so for you to sit here and talk to these 5, 6 youth that are sitting in this office, and to put them down, and to constantly tell them instead of supporting them, is a shame. You need to stand up for this community, this is going to continue to happen, and you need to be their ally.

Mohammad Abdollahi – The DREAM is Coming (20 July 2010)

Just because I am willing to give Gutierrez some leeway, however, does not mean that the rest of the CHC is off the hook.  This is especially true of Nydia Velasquez, the current chairwoman of the CHC who has refused to co-sponsor the DREAM Act.  It is absolutely ridiculous that the migrant youth movement has had to expend energy over this past year and a half trying to get CHC members to co-sponsor the DREAM Act when that energy could have been much better spent elsewhere.

I would like the CHC, as a whole, to come out with a statement in support of moving the DREAM Act on it’s own this year, but with all the egos involved, I doubt that is going to happen.  What we can do, as migrant advocates, though, is make very clear that the CHC does not stand for us when it comes to this issue.  Contrary to Gutierrez’s and Pelosi’s statements, much of the migrant rights movement has already united around pushing the DREAM Act this year.

While asking for a statement from the CHC as a whole might not be the best use of our energy in the short window we have to push the DREAM Act, I do not think it is too much to ask for the chairwoman of the CHC, Nydia Velasquez, to co-sponsor the DREAM Act.  Many CHC members who were previously slow to do so like Joe Baca, Loretta Sanchez and Henry Cuellar, are now co-sponsors of the DREAM Act.  If Nydia Velasquez were to do the same, it would be a huge signal to the migrant youth movement and the public at large that the CHC is ready to allow for the DREAM Act to move on it’s own.

If you haven’t signed the petition, yet, ask Nydia Velasquez to co-sponsor the DREAM Act.

UPDATE: While writing this I asked for a statement from Gutierrez’s office and received the following

From Gutierrez:

It is the whole immigration system that needs fixing, so I will keep fighting for the ten things that need to happen to fix it because I think they fit together and solve things in a holistic manner.  If the Senate or the Speaker tells me we can only get one, I will fight hard for that one thing, but continue to ask for ten because that is what is needed.

Luis Gutierrez (30 July 2010)

From Douglas Rivlin, Press Secretary to Gutierrez (D-IL-04):

The way the Speaker’s remarks were interpreted — that Members of the CHC don’t want DREAM to pass because it would take away power from CIR in the future — doesn’t ring true. I don’t think I have met anyone on the Hill or in the CHC that thinks passing a clean DREAM Act this year hurts CIR significantly.  Maybe a few worry that after any victory, the Democrats will say to the rest of the immigrant community, “okay, come back for more in about 5-10 years.” But that is not a huge concern. 

Winning DREAM would not significantly diminish the chances of winning CIR in the future or necessarily help them either.  Losing a vote for the DREAM Act is a different matter.  Losing a vote by a big margin would hurt CIR, especially if Democrats defect, and only a narrow loss in, say, the Senate, would cause no harm and may even help.

Douglas Rivlin (30 July 2010)

This statement from Rivlin is extremely important because it directly contradicts what Nancy Pelosi said at Netroots Nation.  As Rivlin said, passing the DREAM Act will not hurt our chances at passing CIR.  I disagree with Rivlin on other counts, such as the fact that passing the DREAM Act would not help immigration reform in the future, but the statement is still helpful. 

It would be even more helpful if the CHC as a whole were to come out with a statement saying that they wouldn’t oppose passing the DREAM Act on it’s own this year.  That way we’re not playing games with politicians intent on passing the blame to one another.  Still, this statement is a good start. 

The “DREAM Now” letter series is inspired by a similar campaign started by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Every Monday and Wednesday DREAM-eligible youth will publish letters to the President, and each Friday there will be a DREAM wrap-up.  If you’re interested in getting involved or posting these stories on your site, please email Kyle de Beausset at kyle at citizenorange dot com.

Approximately 65,000 undocumented youth graduate from U.S. high schools every year, who could benefit from passage of the DREAM Act.  Many undocumented youth are brought to the United States before they can even remember much else, and some don’t even realize their undocumented status until they have to get a driver’s license, want to join the military, or apply to college.  DREAM Act youth are American in every sense of the word — except on paper.  It’s been nearly a decade since the DREAM Act was first introduced.  If Congress does not act now, another generation of promising young graduates will be relegated to the shadows and blocked from giving back fully to our great nation.

This is what you can do right now to pass the DREAM Act:

  1. Sign the DREAM Act Petition
  2. Join the DREAM Act Facebook Cause
  3. Send a fax in support of the DREAM Act
  4. Call your Senator and ask them to pass the DREAM Act now.
  5. Email kyle at citizenorange dot com to get more involved

Below is a list of previous entries in the DREAM Now Series:

Mohammad Abdollahi (19 July 2010)
Yahaira Carrillo (21 July 2010)
Weekly Recap – Tell Harry Reid You Want the DREAM Act Now (23 July 2010)
Wendy (26 July 2010)
Matias Ramos (28 July 2010)


    • kyledeb on July 31, 2010 at 05:43

    Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.

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