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A Dream Deferred?

8:19 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Undocumented youth hold banner in support of the DREAM Act. (Edward Kimmel/Flickr)


Originally posted at In These Times.

This week the White House rolled out its “Deferred Action” policy, cracking open the door to legal status for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants without papers. Many see the promise of temporary protection from deportation as a first step toward genuine immigration reform. But the future is unclear: What exactly in it for these these youth, when all they’re being offered is temporary protection?

The Obama administration’s new policy, aimed at pleasing the Latino electorate, initially set off a flurry of celebration among immigrant youth activists who had long pushed for the DREAM Act. But skepticism persists. Legal protection derived from a directive from the Department of Homeland Security is, by nature, tenuous. The fate of the program could depend on who is in the White House next year. And unlike the DREAM Act, the Deferred Action policy allows people to work and study, but does not offer a direct path to long-term legalization.

On the other hand, Deferred Action offers some youth at least a modicum of security and could galvanize the broader movement to resist dysfunctional immigration policies.

Essentially, youth who came to the United States as children are now eligible for a two-year, renewable stay and a work permit, if they meet various criteria including  being 30 or younger, possessing a clean criminal record and having arrived before age 16. Read the rest of this entry →

A Dream of Independence Day

8:08 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

DREAMActivist.org

Cross-posted from CultureStrike

It’s July 4, and wherever you are in the country right now, you’re probably not too far from a burst of fireworks, a parade replete with waving flags and confetti, or a solemn recitation of the pledge of allegiance. You’re also probably not far from the home of someone who is deprived of that sense of belonging, cut off from the privileges of citizenship that others take for granted, and perhaps even reluctant to show themselves in public, for fear of being rounded up and expelled from the country.  In the face of the enormous injustices facing so many who are Americans in all but legal status, the trappings of our 4th of July celebrations may be difficult to appreciate: the commercialized displays of blatant nationalism, the valorization of our wars abroad and unbridled drive for capitalist prosperity at home.  You might wonder why people whose very presence in this country has been criminalized and shamed would feel a sense of cultural allegiance and even national solidarity, particularly when they’re barraged with jingoistic vitriol from “fellow Americans” hell-bent on making them feel as unwelcome as possible. Why would people embrace a country that paints them as “aliens” or dismisses their very being as unlawful?

But again and again, youth who have rallied in support of the DREAM Act and immigration reform voice their desire to be full citizens, to finally be affirmed as true Americans. Which America are we talking about, here? Read the rest of this entry →

Queering Immigration

9:36 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Julio Salgado

Cross-posted from CultureStrike

The hardships of being an undocumented immigrant go beyond the threats of deportation, xenphobic racism, or economic exploitation. Those issues are undoubtedly pervasive, but a more subtle undercurrent of the struggle is the constant feeling that you’re not free to just be, the unrelenting pressure to hide. And for many immigrants, the indignity of having to live underground is compounded by other forms of alienation, especially at the intersection of queerness and undocumented status.

CultureStrike’s Julio Salgado, an undocuqueer artist who’s come out twice–as undocumented and gay–has made a point of exposing the cross-cutting barriers he’s encountered. And he uses art to break through them with his incisive poster art and mini-dramas at Dreamers Adrift, a media project for and by immigrant youth.

The challenges facing LGBT immigrant activists tie into discrimination within immigrant communities as well as in “mainstream” U.S. culture and politics. So how do you deal with a fellow activist who’s progressive on immigrant rights but regressive on queer issues? As Dreamers Adrift explains, it can be pretty damn awkward.

The dilemma has spawned an offshoot of immigrant youth activism, the Undocuqueer Project. At America’s Voice, project co-founder Alex Aldana reflected on revelations he experienced on the 3000-mile Campaign for the American Dream Walk:

Read the rest of this entry →

The Morning After: What Next for DREAMers?

2:33 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Dianne Ovalle

 

Cross-posted from Culture/Strike:

Was it a DREAM fulfilled, or nothing more than a dream? The morning after Obama announced the halting of deportations of young immigrants, activists are trying to grasp what, if anything, they’ve won.

We have a promise from the White House that it will not deport an estimated several hundred thousand undocumented youth who have completed high school education or the equivalent, have clean records, and fulfill other criteria.  At the very least, DREAMers have less reason to fear being rounded up and deported en masse. But the gingerly worded announcement strikes more skeptical activists as a kind of rhetorical rorschach: is it one step toward full legalization? Is it simply, as Obama himself admitted, a stopgap until Congress acts–and therefore a way to punt the issue to a political black hole?  In the wake of Obama’s previous disappointing initiatives to ease up on deportations, some say the “new” White House position on DREAMers is just restating business as usual.

While the move was clearly a political calculation, many DREAMers are determined to read between Obama’s lines hope for more systemic reforms in the future. It’s a positive and heartening announcement, no doubt. But halting deportations for some does not even begin to answer the demand that DREAMers were pushing all along: an immigration system that redefines citizenship in a way that is humane, equitable, and conscious of the realities of a globalized world. Read the rest of this entry →

Will Obama grant the DREAM in fragments?

10:33 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

DreamActivist via flickr

Cross-posted from Culture/Strike

The news is out–and so are undocumented youth around the country who hope that this time, there may be real change ahead. The Obama administration today announced that he will grant undocumented young people temporary immigration relief via an administrative directive by the Department of Homeland Security. The policy would apparently partially fulfill the goals of the DREAM Act campaign by allowing many undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation if they were “brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30,” according to the Associated Press, and have obtained a high school education or served in the military, and have no criminal record. Though it is not a comprehensive path toward full citizenship, the policy would reportedly help several hundred thousand youth avoid deportation and allow them to “apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.”

It appears that this is the administration’s effort to respond to this week’s nationwide mobilization for undocumented youth, coupled with the heightened media attention surrounding Jose Antonio Vargas’s TIME Magazine cover story (featuring CultureStrike’s own Julio Salgado).

Jose Antonio Vargas and his project Define American hailed the new policy as a validation of the struggles of DREAMers and their allies–and acknowledged that many others are still seeking a just and humane immigration solution:

The journey is far from over for the remaining millions of undocumented Americans like me–at 31, I am past the age limit–but this is a big, bold and necessary step in the road to citizenship. Read the rest of this entry →

Immigrant Scapegoating: Not Just an American Pastime

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Cross-posted from Colorlines.com.

Around the world, as long as people keep moving, politicians will continue to talk breathlessly about the immigration “crisis.” It’s a campaign trail standard in the U.S., but in Britain and Western Europe as well, political figures waste no opportunity to project voters’ deepest fears and wildest misperceptions onto whatever group of newcomers is most visible—whether they’re Egyptian, Roma or Polish.

Here in the U.S., all the GOP presidential hopefuls are racing to brandish their nativist street cred. But Mitt Romney has pulled ahead in the meme-fest coming out of South Carolina’s primary. Despite his own immigrant lineage (due to his Mormon missionary roots), Romney has checked off all the boxes: supporting E-Verify, promising to beef up border security, and smacking down the DREAM Act for undocumented students. Appealing to law-and-order types, Romney touts the endorsement of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped craft Arizona’s SB1070 law. (South Carolina, too, boasts an SB1070 copycat bill.)

Not to be outdone, Rick Santorum has argued that once you’ve crossed the border illegally, regardless of what you do or the family you raise thereafter, “everything you’re doing while you’re here is against the law.”

The resurgent Newt Gingrich has touted a relatively “humane” reform plan based on a vaguely defined screening process that might legalize “about 1 million” undocumented immigrants. Though the plan would expel roughly “7 or 8 or 9 million” to their home countries before they can apply to return, even this proposal was immediately decried by rivals as “amnesty.”

But immigrant-bashing isn’t just an American pastime. Although Europe’s far-right movements have generally laid low since Anders Breivik’s murderous rampage against “multiculturalism” in Norway, the hard right remains a vocal minority in several countries.

France—the country the GOP vilifies as a bastion of wine-swilling egalitarian liberals—has stepped up deportations, according to the Washington Post. President Nicolas Sarkozy, himself a descendant of immigrants, has pushed for more deportations as he approaches a tough election. Squeezing the president even further to the right is the hardline National Front party, trumpeting a fiercely anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform. Read the rest of this entry →

Documenting Undocumented Youth

6:55 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Photo: Adrian Gonzalez

Cross-posted from CultureStrike, a new project that fuses art and activism in the struggle for immigrants’ rights.

A few years back, Julio Salgado and his friends graduated from college and found themselves, like many of their peers, adrift: no good job prospects, hard-earned diplomas gathering dust under a slumped economy. But their drift was anchored by a heavy secret: they didn’t have papers, so every post-college hurdle that young people commonly face was thickened by the politics of a broken immigration system.

An epiphany came on the Day of the Dead, the Día de los Muertos that celebrates mortality and the afterlife. In the spirit of the holiday, Salgado and his colleagues, Jesus Iñiguez, Fernando Romero, and Deisy Hernandez, decided to create an altar in memory of their dreams. And the video they made of the mock memorial inspired them to keep going and see where their art would take them.

Today, the California-based team of four “DREAMers”–named for the thus far-failed DREAM Act legislation, which would provide legal status to undocumented immigrants who get a college education in the U.S.–run a nationwide media project devoted to telling stories about life as an undocumented youth.

Despite the name, DREAMers Adrift has a serious mission: to give voice and vision to an emergent political movement through media, ranging from spoken word to visual art to blogging. And despite their legal quagmires, they’ve made the plight of countless young people visible with a video series called “Undocumented and Awkward,” which whimsically depicts the absurdities of everyday life without papers. Read the rest of this entry →

Activists Enter Detention and Emerge Inspired

1:59 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Irene Vasquez, Andrea Ortega, Jonathan Perez, and Isaac Barrera in Albuquerque. (Image: Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies at UNM)

Cross-posted from CultureStrike, a new project that fuses immigrant struggles and the arts.

The Occupy movements mushrooming around the country have displayed the power of collective action when people organize and take to the streets. But alongside street protests, other more subtle uprisings are also exposing the hypocrisy of the political establishment from within. In Louisiana, undocumented youth have subjected themselves to the immigration gauntlet to expose struggles that countless immigrants face every day, trapped in a detention system that deprives them of basic due process rights. Their direct action coincided with the legal battle against draconian state laws that have emerged in recent months aiming to expand the profiling and detention of immigrants.

Their journey is documented on video by Arts of Aztlan.

On the xicana-ostudies blog of the Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies program at the University of New Mexico, program director Irene Vásquez  and Levi Romero, New Mexico State Centennial Poet and Research Scholar, report on the youth’s experiences and their reflections on their ordeal:

Two undocumented student activists from California, Isaac Barrera, 20, and Jonathan Pérez, 24, took the journey of their lives and landed in a Louisiana detention facility to draw attention to the disparate treatment immigrants face in the United States.  The two undocumented human rights activists visited Albuquerque, New Mexico on their way back to California.  They attended the December 3, 2011, New Mexico Dreamers in Action State Congress.  Isaac and Jonathan shared with undocumented youth at the Congress the reasons why they took the risk of being placed in a Louisiana ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention facility.  On that same day, Isaac and Jonathan participated in interviews with Daniel Sonnis of Arts of Aztlan from Albuquerque, and Levi Romero and Irene Vásquez, faculty members in the Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies at the University of New Mexico. Read the rest of this entry →