Real Change for Immigrants in 2009: A Proposal

by JLM

The road to transforming our government’s position on immigrants has been marred with moments of great acceptance and great rejection. Immigrants have become America’s mistress labor force -we enjoy the benefits, but deny all their inherent value in the public sphere. In the shadows of this forbidden love between America and “foreign” labor, we have seen the emergence of a new class of unauthorized individuals. In a time when the people have voted to debunk the racial status quo in electing President Barrack H. Obama, one must ask oneself: Is America ready to legitimize its unwanted children?

If Immigrant families are America’s mistress, then DREAMers, the undocumented children who grew up in this country, are its unwanted sons and daughters. These youth, take after their motherland in physical appearance, but have the minds, words, and dreams of their fatherland –The United States. This border between two worlds, interdependent in every way, is built with the intellect, passion, and youthful eyes of DREAMers. Tethered by status, they are masters of a social order that forbids them legitimate entry.

Their mothers weep as they have long accepted their place in the shadows while their sons and daughters stand by the window hoping that his or her father would soon look after his forgotten children. Youth educated in America’s standards are crippled and left to hope that their country would not forsake them. Is an engineer an engineer if he never holds a building plan? Is the scientist a scientist if she’s denied access to the laboratory? The seed rooted in every one of their hearts is of a land that taught them anything is possible, that hard work and education will unlock the world. That they could be lawyers, engineers and educators if they “applied” themselves, but what happens when the system denies that application? There is a darkness that comes when simple instructions work for all who follow them, except for oneself. A stigma takes over, and thoughts of flight overpower their fight. I know, I’ve witnessed several of these rays of light grow weak with each day our leaders hold back their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, without the nine-digit security code, not even their birthday awards them the right to be human in America.

Organizing in Florida mostly undocumented youth, I’ve had the privilege to see through their eyes the borders they face when engaging in American life. Recently with the election of a man who clearly stated their ticket to freedom, the DREAM Act, as an immediate action his administration would take if elected, all the students beg the question, “Why are we not holding him up to this promise ? ”

It’s often thought in progressive spaces that we have to fight for all the change we seek, that every battle is the last, and that in a time of competing demands we must always seek the whole package to insure our place at the top of the pile. We fight for our dream for a just and fair world, forgetting the countless steps and sacrifices our forefathers of change took to weaken their own status quo’s resistance to tolerance, love, and equality. And yet we announce to the world that we must reach the promise land, with no real map to get there. That we must have faith that over time all the steps we marched will be counted, that our chants will penetrate the noise, and that if we stay the course the powers that be will grant us access to a society that fully accepts its immigrants. That America will just forget the vitriol of negative press, the emboldened voice of our adversaries, and their inherent fear of losing the little they have to a tidal wave of legalized people.

If tomorrow all the headlines, read: 14 million Immigrants are legalized – Are we ready when America freaks out? Will our response be “We did the right thing” to a people who their only exposure to this complex social challenge is “immigrants take our jobs”, they “don’t speak English,” and increase our rate of TB (Thanks Mr. Dobbs)? Will they just accept this change, in a time of record breaking unemployment, foreclosures, and misinformation dominating the airwaves about our cause?

We understand the political climate leaves little room for the millions who took the streets in the past 2006 and 2007, but winning the political battle by weakening our policy demands for the inalienable opportunity to achieve full citizenship, is a win for our advisaries, not our community. Opening the political space will rely on all of us, and insuring good policy will rely on our friends in the beltway, who one day realized that this issue is the civil rights issue of our time. However, if we profess to advocate for a more Just, Fair, and inclusive society, should we not worry beyond the 1+218+60 votes needed to pass any legislation? Should there be a plan to assure the American public is at least receptive, or that there is enough public support to diffuse an imminent backlash? Or do we just strip out every noble fiber of the legislation to insure a legitimate indentured servitude class by removing a pathway to citizenship? Do we just make the legislation digestible to the current climate, or do we figure out a strategy that shows our fellow citizens that legalization and justice for immigrants is long overdue, and will help our country. Or do we want to go down in history as the movement that fought for legitimate second-class citizenship?

These are tough questions, and can be taken tongue-in-cheek, but no good organizer would point the finger if they could not ball their fist.

Yes the time is now to demand it all, but while all the Left demands a time-machine for the past eight years, could we place our feet on the ground, and demand a more digestible solution for our fellow Americans first? This is not to say that as long as we have some semblance of a democracy that we will not shout the battle cry for a just and fair inclusion of all people, but could we offer our fellow Americans a 12 step program that will wear them off the fear and hate pushed for years into their minds? I, like any progressive have faith that the heart of America is sound and holds true to the fundamental values of family, liberty, and equality, but for the past decade we have seen an Anti-immigrant Anti-Hispanic wave captivate a large part of the American public. As Immigrant advocates, it is our job not only to ensure a home is built for immigrant families in this land, but to ensure that once they settle, their home will not fall. To ensure our efforts match our demands, the unauthorized sons and daughters of America have one request: Identify winnable issues in 2009 that place us closer to the goal, and provide America an opportunity to taste the change we have long fought for. It take little time to realize that the federal DREAM Act is a clear example of a winnable issue in 2009, and its passage would begin to turn the tide of enforcement-only legislation that has dominated America’s position on immigration. Note we know several decisions have been made to stay the course, but take these recommendations as a means to escalate the political and public support we must gain to reach the end- Just and Fair Immigration Reform.

Along with the DREAM Act, there are several movements both in Florida and accross the nation hat have worked for years to win change for their constituents. These are four concrete demands that have moved, often times independent form the greater movement in the past five years.

• The D.R.E.A.M. Act

 President Obama directly referred to the DREAM Act as an immediate action his administration would take to help the undocumented. 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year. (National Immigration Law Center) Despite having no say in the decision to immigrate, graduating high school, and acceptance to a higher education institution, many are still denied access to higher education. In 1996, the federal immigration law was changed to deny access to federal and state financial aid to undocumented students. This law unfairly punishes students who rely on their parents for their immigration status.

• Temporary Protective Status for Haitians

 Nearly 800 Haitians died in that country in 2008 as a result of numerous hurricanes—and more than 1 MILLION Haitians are homeless due to these conditions. Before the storms, Haitians were already struggling due to a food crisis and political instability. If the U.S. government advises Americans that current conditions make it unsafe to travel to Haiti, the safety of forcibly repatriated Haitians cannot be guaranteed. We urge our elected officials to support H.R. 144, which would grant TPS to Haitian nationals.

• Stop Abusive practices by I.C.E. in raids and detention and repeal Local 287(g) Agreements

When ICE officers invade homes and workplaces in immigrant communities, they terrorize families (including children), spread fear and criminalize many who are simply working to feed their families. This type of enforcement often results in excessive force and can lead to deportation that separates families. o 287(g) agreements deputize local police to do the work of the federal government. This use of resources takes personnel away from protecting our communities from crime and turns police officers into ICE agents. When immigrants are intimidated in this way, they are unlikely to report crimes and are made even more vulnerable to criminal acts, including robbery and rape.

• The Child Citizens Protection Act.

Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY) introduced the Child Citizen Protection Act (H.R. 1176), a limited bill to restore justice to our immigration system by allowing U.S. citizen children to be heard before a parent is taken away. The Child Citizen Protection Act would repeal the harshest provisions of the 1996 laws and allow immigration judges to consider whether deportation is “clearly against the best interests of a US citizen child”. It preserves the basic notion of fairness that should define the U.S. justice system. It allows judges to judge, and families to have a day in court.

 

Often times these four movements within our movement dont get their day in court and get held back in hopes of a  grand bargain for comprehensive immigration reform. Our belief is that a well supported effort to have even one of these pieces of legislation pass in 2009 will embolden our pro-immigrant allies in congress, and expand the political space for a comprehensive solution. Passing winnable legislation in 2009 will increase the energy and force of our grassroots movement for a comprehensive solution, and give our base a long awaited victory. We are not asking to benefit some over others, but wars are won on the cumulative success of its battles. 2009 is a tough year, with the economy as issue #1, to get a comprehensive package, but each of these pieces of policy are lead by strong, agile, and national grassroots efforts. Help those movements within our movement to win, and together we can become one united front, for just and fair immigration reform. We received a promise from our President and our legislative champions that 2009 will be a year of change for our immigrant communities. Change is not accomplished with clear promises, but decisive action by our leaders.

Community Organizing: Possible Definitions

Scene: At Willys Bar…

Dude: Hello

JLM: Hello

Dude: So what do you do?

JLM: I’m a Community Organizer?

Dude: Oh like Obama

JLM: Kinda…

Dude: So what do you do?

 

As an organizer, I’m always asked the same question, “What do you do?  

Here are some working definitions and my own personal stab at this vexing occupation.

 

Community organizing is a process by which people living in proximity to each other are brought together by an organization to act in their common self-interest. Community organizers may act as area-wide coordinators of programs for different agencies in an attempt to meet community needs for various services.  

Wikipedia  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_organizer

 

Community organization is that process by which the people…organize themselves to ‘take charge’ of their situation and thus develop a sense of being a community together. It is a particularly effective tool for the poor and powerless as they determine for themselves the actions they will take to deal with the essential forces that are destroying their community and consequently causing them to be powerless.7
-Reverend Robert Linthicum, World Vision International

 

Organizing does two central things to seek to rectify the problem of power imbalance – it builds a permanent base of people power so that dominant financial and institutional power can be challenged and held accountable to values of greater social, environmental and economic justice; and, it transforms individuals and communities, making them mutually respectful co-creators of public life rather than passive objects of decisions made by others.8
-Mike Miller, Organize Training Center

 

Communtiy Organizing, is a tradition often not described directly by the aforementioned term,that dates back to before Jesus. Some argue Jesus is one of histroy’s greatest example of community organizing (12 leaders, one message, challenging status quo etc.). For the organizer it often begins with a moment of obligation. A moment when you as an individual realize that all your efforts are useless if the community members effected by the issue are not leading the way. Our work is to uphold the value of community change, lead by workers, families, service people, and the everyday citizens of planet earth who comes together in community to say “No More” and offer a solution to the social ails that bring them down. As an organizer our role is to collectivize the pain and offer tools to engage in civil society and enact our democaratic right to speak out, hold our ellected officials accountable, and insure the quality of life of the collective. 

When pain, oppression, and repression enters our communities people have choices. They can bare the pain. They could speak out. They could find others that share their pain and speak out together. They could harness that voice and target it to the decision makers who could breing about the change. They could buidls community power to work towards community transformation. They could be the change.

Speak+Share+Learn+Target+Action= Organizing

Much more could be said, but this should give those of you who were not to sure of what our new President’s previous occupation entailed a basic idea. 

JLM