Dear Democrats: Change the Frame

It’s been about 72 hours since Saturday’s vote on DREAM. I’d like to share some thoughts, but first, two important things:

First, if you have hit a point in which you are thinking of taking your own life, please call a mental health hotline. Or get in touch with us at… we’re not health professionals, but we can talk (

Second, hundreds of people have already signed up to volunteer with us. If you are wondering what the next steps are, sign up and we’ll keep you in the loop.

And now, a few thoughts. Yesterday, quite a few of us received a mass email from Mitch Stewart, Organizing for America, which stated, “I’ll be blunt: this vote failed because a group of Republicans stood with their party, instead of their principles.”

I’ll be blunt: this vote failed because there is a crisis of leadership within the Democratic party and progressives in general when it comes to immigration, in addition to racist, fear-mongering rhetoric employed by the GOP.

Five Democrats voted against the DREAM Act, and another bailed completely and was at a Christmas party (granted, he ran on an anti-Obama platform). The Democratic party has been talking about how much they prioritize immigration since before the 2008 election, and yet the most they can muster is using the DREAM Act as a political football immediately prior to the midterm election (see: DOD attachment) and a vote on a narrow DREAM Act in the last week of the lame duck session to appease us and say, “hey, we tried!” (and this, only after months of civil disobedience, hunger strikes, and internal politics that threatened to expose some of our friends over at the non-profit industrial complex).


Democrats, and many prominent immigration reform “advocates” have been swallowing and parroting nativist talking points for years, thinking that if they look like Republicans, and act like Republicans, then maybe Republicans will like them enough to support their initiatives (speaking of which, read this great post by a Texas blogger about the failure of the Democratic party in Texas. I see the same failings on the national level, lately.)

Before we launch into this, full disclosure. I threw myself into the Obama campaign when he was polling 11%. I never thought he’d change the world. I wasn’t a cult follower (although I got one of those badass posters, and tshirts, of course), but I knew it was a good shot at some positive change. I’d do it all over again. But shoot, as far as immigration goes… I thought maybe, just maybe, we’d get a little more.

Instead, the Obama strategy, and presumably, the Democratic strategy, was this: prove that they was serious about nativist talking points, like enforcement and border security, by throwing money at the border (600 million dollars, in fact) and deporting in record numbers (including DREAM-eligible students. We had to fight off ICE multiple times these past two years) and then approaching Republicans to say, “Hey, check it out, we care about enforcement and border security just like you. Look at how many people we’ve deported! Look at how many new speedboats border patrol has! Now can we plz haz a path to legalization, under your terms!?”

I had hoped this wasn’t true. I really didn’t want this to be true. Unfortunately, it is true, and the fundamental problem is that Democrats, the “left” and many progressive organizations in general have swallowed a nativist narrative; that immigrants are criminals and that there has to be some kind of punishment involved. They only have enough political courage to say, as an addendum, “Shoot, maybe all these people who are working here and living here.. should stay here? Please?”

This is a losing narrative. Accept criminality in the narrative, and the immigration reform “solution” will treat immigrants like criminals. It’s that simple. That’s why the immigration reform proposals sucked, for lack of a more honest word, and nobody could get juiced up about them.

There is hope on the horizon.  None of the DREAMActivists that I know or work with accept any part of the nativist’s rhetoric, and I think that we won the war on messaging. Everybody from that empty shell of a man, John McCain, to Roy Beck of Numbers USA acknowledges that they’re very sympathetic to DREAMers, that they have very compelling stories.  Maybe they oppose DREAM… but they can’t call dreamers criminals. And it’s not a victory, but it’s a start.

It’s time to capture the entire frame of the debate with this narrative. When Isabel Castillo from Virginia, was doing a sit-in in Senator Reid’s office, asking for a commitment to the DREAM Act, she asked a staffer, “You love your children, right? And you’d do anything for them, right? Including cross the border?”

Crossing the border for the sake of your children, Isabel implies, is an act of love. Not of criminality.

It’s time to change the frame. Democrats, progressives, anybody who claims to be an advocate for immigrant rights, I challenge you to drop the nativist narrative, and instead of talking about securing the border, talk about access to education. Talk about hard work, about perseverance, about rags to (metaphoric) riches. Talk about parents who love their children, and make sacrifices for them. Talk about the dreams that show everybody’s humanity.

Here’s to getting on offense and setting the tone. Don’t give an inch. We are all human. We are right.

sincerely yours,

Flavia (

p.s. Just to close it out, here’s a brief segment from NPR on DREAM. Roy Beck is hella lame, you can skip him, and I’m in the second half of the interview. And it’s dedicated to YOU.

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31 thoughts on “Dear Democrats: Change the Frame

  1. Although I am personally unaffected by the DREAM act not passing, the moral cowardice exhibited by both parties truly makes me want to puke. I know you’re being harsher toward Democrats as more is expected of them, but the fact that cynical votes like the one on Saturdary are squarely in the Republican wheelhouse shouldn’t spare them. We all know this act would have passed overwhelmingly, including among Republicans, if we held a blind vote.

    Also, as a Muslim American belonging to a group that has also endured much villification over the last 2 years from the same people that trash latinos, I sympathize strongly.

    I will do what I can to help pass the DREAM act.

  2. It could not possibly be that it was a bad bill?
    You wont even consider that?

    I am an old man, young miss. I have had my share of dreams shattered.
    I do know, what that is like. However, sometimes things happen for a reason.
    Think about the quality of that bill.

  3. Thanks for linking to me, Flavia. I appreciate all you are doing to push forward for the DREAM Act and that you are not afraid to call for a stronger Democratic Party in the process.

  4. Fantastic analysis, Flavia. I’m currently writing a thesis that examines the nativist rhetoric used by policymakers when discussing immigrants/immigration policy. The themes within their conversations haven’t changed much in the past 230 years. My research argues the US government uses immigration policy to uphold the grand narrative of exclusionary nationalism–an assimilationist, racist, xenophobic, and classist narrative that excludes non-White immigrants from the American identity. I use the DREAM Act debates as a case study. Your thoughts on this topic are spot-on.

    We will continue the fight for the DREAM Act by changing the way we talk about immigrants and access. Thank you for your courage.

    • I couldn’t agree more!!!! There are bills that will be coming up to make English our primary language. There are too many places that now require that we speak spanish. Funny, all our other cultures learn and speak english. Our Africans, Asians and all others have assimilated and respect our country. What’s up with the spanish speaking population?

      • Please indicate a law that requires that Americans speak Spanish. Otherwise, your claims are unsubstantiated. Take a hike.

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  6. I agree with most of your points, but I disagree that we cannot accept the criminality in crossing the border illegally. It is a criminal act (a misdemeanor), at least by the parents, plain & simple. What we should focus on, I believe, is the notion that the broken law has turned otherwise decent hardworking people INTO criminals. And, perhaps most importantly, given that it is a victimless crime, there are thousands worse criminal actions, and too many of those people get off completely or lightly.

    I say if you want to punish those who broke the law, then okay, but that punishment should not involve jail time or deportation.

    -Carlos A. Rodriguez, Esq.
    Immigration Lawyer

  7. I am just an ordinary citizen rarely involved in politics, but the Dream Act touched me. This was the first time I had ever called a senator about anything. The more I talked with people, the more other ordinary, normally uninvolved friends came onboard and called our senators. The Dream Act is not dead. It just has had a set back. I do not plan on voting for my Senator that voted against it in two years. Even if the vote failed this time, it is not over.The message is out there and reaching more people.

    • Do yourself a favor and go to one of your racist boards to spew your hate. No one wants to read your small minded views based on such your own need to feel superior.

      • Sorry, sweetheart, that’s not going to happen. I am representative of mainstream American opinion. You can state your case (FAIL here in your case) or you can cry, Raaaacist!

        And fail again. Just like the DREAM act!

  8. I second everything you said. The fact that Democrats want to take credit because they did something at the last hour is complete bullshit. Republicans can stick together and sign a letter that will give the rich more tax breaks but the Democrats can’t stick together to help this ailing community? Give me a break.

    Pressure is on Obama now… big time.

    • Andrea…you are starting to actually comprehend exactly what many Americans having been telling pro-amnesty groups for over a decade…most democrats only see the hispanics as a voter block…they could care less about your Dream Act….they will say anything or do anything that they can get away with just to get the votes needed to stay in power…well, too late for this past election where 73 seats in the house were won by anti-amnesty politicians …many republicians also talk out two side of their mouth…but, the Tea Party is outing these individuals and there days are also numbered…so, I don’t see your cause going much further within the next two years…streamlining the immigration process would better serve your purpose…Good Luck and Happy New Year….Bill

  9. mr happy white man dont forget the this country is found by imigrans I thing take some hitory and dont be iginonte this contry is so strong thanks to the all imigras from all the world my name is Juan V.

  10. Whatever you think about racial issues, this year’s census just came out, and America’s population grew at the slowest rate since the Great Depression. We are flatlining. It’s only a matter of time until we become a nation of retirees, financially supported by a shrinking workforce.

    The DREAM Act would have brought millions of new hardworking taxpayers into the fold, keeping this nation fiscally solvent. But right-wingers only care about hating brown people, even as they fetishize “the deficit” in the same breath.

    In North Korea, children can be punished for the decisions of parents and grandparents. Not to be outdone, today’s conservatives believe this is a great idea. Right-wingers would rather punish children for decisions they did not make and weren’t responsible for, than graduate new taxpayers.

    I am personally a white, natural born citizen. The DREAM Act wouldn’t have affected me, or anyone I know. But it made good, common sense. It was fair, and would have helped the nation’s balance sheet. Neither of these things matter to today’s teabagging right. They would rather bankrupt the country and emulate petty third world dictatorships, as long as it means enough brown people got to suffer for it. Truly a miserable bunch of paranoid creeps.

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  16. Flavia – your ‘new’ narrative won’t work. A very narrowly crafted DREAM Act might get passed, absent the ability for the recipients to sponsor relatives and with citizenship bestowed only upon those who complete 4 years of military service, a 4 year baccalaureate degree or a recognized vocational certification. The Act would also restrict the government from any “hardship” waiver of any of its provisions.

    Amnesty for illegal immigrants is fiction. MALDEF and La Raza saw to that by sponsoring the marches in the spring of 2006. One simply does not tell one’s host what to do, especially in America. These protesters, who marched with the Mexican flag (and others) were ill-advised to do that as it angered an awful lot of centrist Americans who might have supported immigration reform of some sort.

    I can see the simplified DREAM Act something like what I described passing, and I would support it. I will never support immigration reform until E-verify is a requirement (likely) and we have a national ID card (unlikely). A repeal of birthright citizenship would be nice but will never pass. Many Americans think like I do.

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