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 dreamactivist.org… we’re not health professionals, but we can talk (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
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.
- Obama’s political arm vows to revive DREAM Act (thehill.com)
- DREAM Act dies in Senate (politico.com)
- Students in Minnesota on hunger strike for DREAM Act (redantliberationarmy.wordpress.com)
- Obama Administration Set New Deportation Record to Appease GOP (my.firedoglake.com)
- Some tips for Democrats on immigration reform (sfgate.com)