Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Time is NOW!

Trail of Dreams

Posted on June 7, 2010 by felipe

A friend of mine from the youth immigrant movement in this country made the bold and honest statement earlier this month that “our government seems to have forgotten that they are playing politics with our very lives.” I think that this problem goes far beyond just our state and federal government, but I can agree, at least, that these are manipulative political games that I'm simply not willing to play. We don't have a minute to waste, remembering daily how we have already wasted a decade, and our communities cannot go without a victory for yet another year. We need for every major immigrant rights organization to invest time and resources on pushing the Hispanic Caucus to pass the DREAM Act and AgJobs this year as well as demanding president Obama to stop deportations.

I joined the fight for human rights when I was sixteen years-old. I was a high school sophomore at the time, and had recently stumbled upon the realization that I lacked the legal documentation being required of me to validate my existence and my humanity. I will never forget the first time that someone turned to me and said I couldn't attend college, and that any aim I had for a successful future in this country was a hopeless aspiration. In the middle of so much confusion, I found the little hope to keep me motivated every morning embodied by the Development Relief in Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act -a proposed legislation that would provide the option of a pathway to citizenship to foreign individuals who arrived at the United States as minors, graduated from U.S. high schools, demonstrated good moral conduct, and committed to completing a minimum of two years of college or military service. It was the promise of opportunity in America. It was the DREAM that for so many years had kept me alive, and in retrospect, I felt it my duty to do everything within my power to keep IT alive. I still recall my early days in this struggle for social justice as I used to hide behind trees in my high school courtyard, in civil disobedience to the school's policy against student's use of cell phones, and convinced friends (through a meticulous process of recruitment which eventually evolved to my first efforts at community organizing) to call congressional representatives to demand co-sponsorships for the bill. Every time the bill failed in Congress, I wept, and tried with all my might to rejuvenate that hope every time it was reintroduced again. Meanwhile, the losses have been devastating and the pain of our communities has escalated too greatly for this issue to be treated as a game that could be lost or postponed yet again to another future term. We don't have the option of just giving up on our communities yet again. We must have a WIN!

Our opposition had a vision for what they wanted to see in an “ideal” immigration reform bill. They introduced the “Sensenbrenner” proposal in 2006 that would virtually make life for immigrants entirely unbearable in this country. We organized and defeated the bill in 2007, however, we were not able to keep our guard up. Nearly all aspects of the original proposal started being pushed through in the form of smaller bills that created the political environment that we are currently living in now. Through an undeclared piecemeal approach, the anti-immigrants repeatedly won several legislative battles while we continued to push for an omnibus bill that has been diluted so often in the past decade that many are wondering if any of the few benefits it proposes really outweigh the long term devastation it will cost all of our friends and families.

What has happened in Arizona is partially our fault. We as a movement allowed for anti-immigrant rhetoric to dominate the public sphere, to the point that even in Florida, groups affirmed once that the reasons for our water shortages were due to the presence of immigrants in the state. Our movement accepted too many concessions. We accepted a framework for legalization that was twenty-six pages long while the first seventeen were dedicated to enforcement of unjust and often inhumane immigration policies that keep families living in fear and criminalize innocent people of color. Instead of having a resolute stance on a progressive compromise, it has somehow become “strategic” to allow the majority of our people to be seen and demonized as criminals, needing to “pay the price for our illegal actions.” When my family decided to send me to the United States they did not commit a crime. They were trying to build a better future for me and the different generations in our family. This approach contributed to the growth of a anti-immigrant political culture in which, now in 2010, it has somehow become acceptable to enact bluntly racist legislation in Arizona, such as SB1070. The precedent has inspired several other states across the nation to introduce similar legislation and, without leadership and action against this from the federal government, it will only continue to spread across our nation like a cancer. President Obama's response to this situation: militarizing the U.S./Mexico border with 1,200 troops of the national guard. If we are not going to reassess our strategy now, when will we?

Our congressional “champions”, and our own internalized fear in this movement to dare to negotiate on our terms is what has been dooming us to inevitable failure. Our people invested their hopes and dreams yet again in a handful of promising politicians and yet, they keep bringing us back to the age-old doctrine that change is something we can only accomplish gradually in the hands of, at the timeline of, and under the terms of the same people that stand against our families and futures. We can't keep losing hundreds of thousands of our loved ones along the way while every imaginable excuse is concocted to keep even the first tangible victories somewhere beyond the horizon. And I wonder how long we will allow politicians (and I use that term broadly) to keep convincing us that something just within our reach is still 6 months to several years away? The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the leadership in our movement has a unique opportunity this very instant to change the stakes set against us on our path to victory by changing their strategy to a downpayment approach. We need them to stand with us now, as we have stood with them in their campaign to deliver something positive for us.

In the Trail, we decided to attempt to meet with and challenge individuals and institutions that have helped to perpetuate the spread of fear throughout our country; people like Sheriff Butch Conway, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors. Our approach has been to treat everyone as a human being in an attempt to combat hatred spewed at us, with love. It was through this method that we witnessed love is the most radical of all tactics. Our work is not against talking heads but rather on creating a space for immigrants to stand up and fight for themselves and their communities with dignity in this struggle. Yesterday, Juan asked, “ If our opposition has united against us in their hate, why can't we unite under the love we have for our communities?”. Let us leave our political differences behind and roll up our sleeves to accomplish something positive for our communities this year for a change. We still have the chance to pass the DREAM Act, AgJobs and hold president Obama accountable for his promises on his campaign trail -he, too, can act now to stop the bleeding by signing an executive order to stop deportations instead of sending troops to the border and providing further funding to criminalization. In the Congresso Latino this approach was widely accepted- it was voted by 35 to 14 votes. Recognized organization such as LULAC and NALAC have decided that we need a downpayment this year as well. So the question I pose our movement is: what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for SB1070 to take effect and spread to each of our states, in order for us to finally understand that we need to stand united? How great of a cost are we willing to pay before we fully reclaim our humanity?

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