What the Immigration Rights Movement Can Learn from the Gay Rights Movement

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Reblogged from the Washington Post
by Frank Sharry

There is something about being under attack that makes a movement stronger.

I’ve been an advocate for immigrants for 30 years, working with Central Americans in Boston and policymakers in Washington. And for a long time, my colleagues and I assumed that if we developed strong reform ideas and clever lobbying strategies, we’d help create a road map to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in America.

But in 2005, with the rise of the Minutemen and fresh attention from Capitol Hill, many in the Republican Party started to turn immigration into a wedge issue. They demonized hardworking immigrants as criminals and moochers. They blocked national reform and passed harsh state laws aimed at purging immigrants. Their goal: to make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they would be forced to leave the country. Democrats were divided, our opponents were on the march, and we in the immigrants’ rights movement were on the defensive. Fortunately, we had a community we could learn from, look up to, emulate. And that was the LGBT movement.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community might have been even more marginalized than ours. In fact, I used to joke with a friend who works for an LGBT activist group about who was lower on the totem pole, gays or immigrants. But the LGBT movement bounced back from significant setbacks a decade ago to win multiple state referenda on marriage equality, turn the Obama administration around on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Read the rest of this article here.

Immigration Reform, 2013 Edition

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A bipartisan group of eight senators will unveil a framework for comprehensive immigration reform later today.  It is based on the following principles:

  • Creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.
  • Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.
  • Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants.
  • Allowing more low-skill workers into the country and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn’t recruit a U.S. citizen; and establishing an agricultural worker program.

It’s  good thing that lawmakers are grappling with the issue, in fact, it’s long overdue.  The entire framework, available here, does a great deal to address the basic unfairness of our current immigration system and if enacted, would help move millions of immigrant workers in the U.S. out of their second-tier status and offer more opportunities.  My concern is that the plan is contingent on “secure borders.”  I’ve written extensively about the folly of this idea, that it is money wasted when there are other solutions, like temporary visas, that could address the border issue.

It is too early to criticize the framework, whatever its deficiencies.  At this point we should hope that it moves beyond framework  and debate and into meaningful legislation

Three strategies the White House can employ to push Immigration Reform Forward

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Pablo Manriquez for HuffPost

The political window in Washington is open for landmark, comprehensive reform to the immigration code.  President Obama is expected to push for a bill in the early part of this year.  Here are three ways the White House can lead the charge for meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform.   

1.  Empower Cecilia Muñoz

President Obama listens to Cecilia Muñoz, and for good reason. Cecilia Muñoz is awesome.  As Assistant to the President and Director of his Domestic Policy Council, Muñoz has proven herself as a brilliant and loyal enforcer for the president on immigration reform.  Muñoz came up through NCLR.  She knows how the fight for immigration policy works in Washington better than anyone on the White House team.  She also has a groomed and connected Hispanic press shop — the first of its kind in the White House — and a rising tide of Hispanic media to activate and involve in a supremely beneficial policy battle for America.  That’s what immigration is, after all (12).

2.  Reach Out to Marco Rubio

Any serious negociation of comprehensive immigration on Capitol Hill must involve Marco Rubio.  Republican honchos recently met privately in Miami to map out the Hispanic outreach for the 2014 midterm election cycle.  Senator Rubio was surely factored into the strategy in a big way, especially if the Republican Party rallies behind him to support immigration reform.  The freshman senator from Florida supports a path to citizenship, and has so far been willing to make himself vulnerable to what Colin Powell calls the “dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the [Republican] party.”  The White House should collaborate with Marco Rubio to rally the American people behind meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform.

Read the rest of this post on HuffPost Latino Voices

The GOP’s “come to Jesus” moment on Immigration

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When I started this blog in June 2006 my primary focus was immigration.  That focus intensified as I finished my book on new immigrant communities in the mid-Atlantic states.  Back then I argued that the GOP’s position on immigration, particularly their anti-Latino positions, would one day prove to be political suicide.

It appears that day has finally come.

Since President Obama’s victory on November 6 I’ve been reading the commentaries from Republicans and Democrats, and it’s clear that the 2012 election has been a wake-up call for many in the GOP.  The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, whose support of Mitt Romney failed to see the coming train wreck before it took place, today wrote that “Republicans will need to develop a more humane, proactive role for government in helping the working class. And they will need to stop actively alienating the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States.”

His sentiment was echoed by David Brooks, who summarized the GOP dilemma on the PBS NewsHour as: “You know, the fundamental issue is that this is a country that is an incredibly diverse country that has changed demographically, a lot more Latinos, a lot more Asian -Americans, a lot more single women, a lot more single men, and a lot more college-educated men. And, culturally, the Republican Party didn’t move.”

I would add that the Republican Party did move, but they were trying to move backwards.  What they found is that isn’t possible.  You either appeal to the new and growing majority, or you become increasingly irrelevant.

There are, of course, conservatives who simply refuse to believe the reality before them.  George Will is a notable example.  He seems to think that the GOP’s ability to hold onto the House indicates that America wants the status quo.  What he fails to realize that the status quo is a forward momentum.  The nation will ratify same-sex marriage one state at a time, Latinos will vote, hopefully in ever greater numbers, and many Americans think that government is not the big enemy, but useful tool in regulating and supporting the lives of the citizenry.

I sincerely hope that President Obama will sieze the momentum of the election and begin his second term focusing on immigration reform, which is long overdue.

!Viva América!

Immigration Reform’s Image Problem

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This is an amazing commentary about the lack of marketing strategy used by non-profits trying to promote the DREAM Act.  The basic message: you cannot sell a rights issue by saying you deserve it.

There is a subtext to this piece, about the fact that Americans don’t believe anybody deserves anything (except perhaps the rich who deserve to make as much money as possible and have little or no social or community obligation).

It’s something we should all think about.

Immigrant Voices: An Oliver Twist Story

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This article from today’s Washington Post highlights an amazing story of a Guatemalan immigrant child who arrived in the U.S. at age 14 and somehow survived–and thrived–with the support of teachers, family and friends.  He’s a poster child for why we need to pass the DREAM Act.

Harvard Student will not be deported. At least not yet.

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Hopefully this case and others like it will help make the DREAM Act a reality.

ICE captures and detains undocumented Harvard Student

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Americans can all rest easier tonight.  Another potentially dangerous “illegal alien” was apprehended at the San Antonio airport last week. It appears this would-be criminal was able to sneak into our beloved country when he as 4 years old, and has since spend his life recklessly working hard and gaining admission to one of the top U.S. universities.

I ask you, is this the type of person we want to have in our country?  Don’t we need to send this kid packing and “take back” America from him and those like him?  

Eric Balderas is one of the thousands of kids who were brought to this country by their parents.  They grew up here, speak English and could be productive members of our society.  Does that matter?

I guess it all depends on your perspective.  The current immigration hysteria would lead a lot of otherwise reasonable people to treat Eric like a common criminal and send him packing.  Others can see the benefit of helping kids like Eric by supporting the DREAM Act.  For more information on Eric click here.  For more on the DREAM Act, click here.

From the Boston Globe:

A 19-year-old Harvard biology student, who has been in the United States unlawfully since he was 4 years old, was detained at a Texas airport this week and is now fighting deportation to his native Mexico.

Eric Balderas, a sophomore on a full scholarship to Harvard, was detained Monday while preparing to board a flight back to Boston to spend the summer conducting research at the university. He had been visiting his mother in San Antonio, where he grew up and was valedictorian of his high school class.

Balderas said he had lost his Mexican passport and tried to board the flight using a consular card from the Mexican government and his Harvard identification. Instead, he said, airport security called immigration officials, who handcuffed and fingerprinted him, and detained him for five hours before letting him go. He boarded a flight back to Boston the next day, pending a July 6 court date with an immigration judge, probably in Boston.

Today, Balderas was shaken and fearful of being forced to return to a country he barely remembers. He hopes to finish school and become a cancer researcher.

“I’m very worried to be honest,” he said in an interview. “I’m willing to fight this, of course. I’m just hanging in there.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Brian P. Hale would not comment on Balderas’s case because of privacy laws, but he said ICE evaluates each case on an individual basis.

Balderas’s arrest comes a year after Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust urged Congress to support the Dream Act, federal legislation that would allow immigrant youths to apply for legal residency, under certain conditions. Faust also recently met with US Senator Scott Brown, in part to urge him to support the measure.

A Harvard spokeswoman praised Balderas today and said he is an example of why Congress should pass the act.

“Eric Balderas has already demonstrated the discipline and work ethic required for rigorous university work, and has, like so many of our undergraduates, expressed an interest in making a difference in the world,” said Harvard spokeswoman Christine Heenan. “These dedicated young people are vital to our nation’s future, and President Faust’s support of the Dream Act reflects Harvard’s commitment to access and opportunity for students like Eric.”

The Dream Act would create a path to legal residency for youths who arrived before they turned 16 and have lived here for five years. They would have to complete two years of college or the military, among other requirements to qualify.

Opponents say it would reward students and their families who broke the law by entering the country illegally, but supporters point out that children had no say in their parents’ decision to bring them to the United States. The presidents of Harvard, Brown, Tufts, and other universities have backed the legislation, which has been stalled since 2001.

Balderas’ stunned friends and classmates today, who rallied to his defense, joining a Facebook page and urging immigration officials to let him stay. They said he has tried to be a good citizen and stellar student.

Friends pointed out that Balderas barely remembers Mexico, and feels like English is his first language.

“He’s like an American, but without documents,” said Mario Rodas, a member of the Student Immigrant Movement, which has been pushing for legal residency for immigrant youth. “These are the kind of people we need in this country, doing research for cancer.”

Balderas said he is the son of a single mother who left an abusive husband and worked 12-hour days packing biscuits while raising him, and his younger brother and sister in San Antonio. At home, he would babysit his siblings while juggling homework on his own.

“I honestly never thought I’d make it into college because of my status but I just really enjoyed school too much and I gave it a shot,” he said. “I did strive for this.”

Now he is at one of the world’s best universities, majoring in molecular and cellular biology.
But on Monday, as he sat handcuffed, he said he contemplated suicide at the thought of being sent back to Mexico. He does not remember his hometown of Ciudad Acuna, in the northern state of Coahuila. His family is in Texas.

“They just kept (asking) me if I had any other documents, that they were just trying to help me so that I can get on the plane,” he said, recalling his conversation with immigration officials. “But at that point I realized there was nothing that I could do, that anybody could do.”

New Tactic for Advocates of Immigration Reform

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In and attempt to raise awareness of the need for comprehensive immigration reform, four immigrant students set out on foot from downtown Miami on Friday, starting a four-month walk to Washington to protest “the Obama administration’s lack of action on legislation granting legal status to illegal immigrants.”  Three of the students are undocumented, and thus risk being apprehended in route to Washington.

Although the students would like to see a major immigration overhaul, it’s also clear that this group would benefit from the passage of the DREAM Act:

The students in Miami said in a statement that they decided to begin their walk because they had a “deep desire and need for complete citizenship” after they reached dead-ends in school or work because of their lack of legal immigration status. The protesters include Carlos Roa, 22, who was 2 years old when his parents brought him here from Venezuela, and Felipe Matos, 23, sent from Brazil by his mother when he was 14. They say they support proposals in overhaul bills that would open a path to citizenship for students who came to this country illegally when they were young.

Korean Student with a Secret

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Another kid who could benefit from the DREAM Act: