A Message for Advocates of Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Free the DREAM Act

Representative Luis Gutierrez has managed to incense immigrant youth again with his latest attempt to get the Obama Administration to show leadership on immigration issues.

In the New York Times, the Latino congressional member is quoted saying

“This is the moment for him to act. And if we stumble, if somehow we fail, let’s fail together. Let’s fail fighting!”

DreamActivists are less than impressed:

Good luck, Representative Gutierrez, but we’re not interested in failing. Perhaps you have the luxury of speculating as to what happens if nothing changes, but for us, it’s unthinkable. We don’t have an answer to the question, “What happens if we fail?” We don’t even ask the question. It’s not a question anymore.

-Flavia de la Fuente, Editor, DREAMACTIVIST, May 2010

Representative Gutierrez is not the enemy but the Congressional Hispanic Caucus strategy of pushing for comprehensive immigration reform has meant putting the DREAM Act on the backburner even when the votes are there to push the bill out of committee onto the floor.

The DREAM Act is a narrowly tailored, bipartisan measure which would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth who have grown up in the United States, graduated from high school or obtained a GED and gone on to attend college or join the military. The legislation was first introduced in 2001 by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) but despite having majority support, failed to muster enough votes to override cloture in 2007. Currently, the DREAM Act (S. 729 and H.R. 1751) has 39 cosponsors in the Senate and 119 in the House and advocates believe they have the votes to pass the bill.

However, the grassroots popularity of the DREAM Act is also a curse for the legislation. Pro-immigration advocates fear that passing the bill on its own weakens the need for comprehensive immigration reform. They accuse immigrant youth of being selfish and not caring about their parents or the bigger picture. Hence, the DREAM Act has been tied to a bigger bill against the wishes of immigrant youth, the beneficiaries of the legislation.

Of course pro-immigration reform advocates need a reality check based on the reasons listed here. Passing the DREAM Act is long overdue, serves as a litmus test for comparable pieces of legislation and enables undocumented youth to come out of the shadows and fight for more comprehensive solutions.

And that is just a starter list.

Courage requires that advocates for a comprehensive solution to immigration admit the errors in their strategy, which has deferred the dreams of immigrant youth for close to a decade. The least Representative Gutierrez and others in his position can do is support immigrant youth as they lead the fight for the DREAM Act, and eventually, a just and humane immigration reform.

Recently, four brave undocumented students sat down for the DREAM Act in Senator McCain’s office and now face deportation and possibly, torture and death in their countries of origin.

They took this risk because their communities are under attack. They put their lives on the line thinking about friends they have lost in the struggle. For these undocumented youth, living in limbo is more scary than the risk of deportation, and they demand an immediate passage of the DREAM Act as a standalone bill.

The sit-down sparked acts of civil disobedience around the country. From hunger strikes in Michigan calling on Senator Stabenow to co-sponsor the DREAM Act to protests in front of Senator Schumer’s office, calling him to champion the legislation. From Los Angeles youth shutting down Wilshire Boulevard (and making that trend on Twitter) to immigrant youth in Kentucky going on a 65 hour hunger strike, asking Senator Bunning to support the DREAM. These Dream Activists are far from done; in fact, they are just getting started.

If Rep. Gutierrez wants to restore his lost credibility among immigrant youth and show leadership on the issue, he should broker deals and get the necessary votes to restore and pass the DREAM Act as a standalone bill so that immigrant youth and immigrant communities can have a real victory sometime soon.

He can start with actually getting the entire Congressional Hispanic Caucus behind the bill and then pushing Chairwoman of Immigration Subcommittee Zoe Lofgren and Speaker Nancy Pelosi to get the legislation through the House.

Next, Rep. Gutierrez can reach out to Senator Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Durbin (D-IL) and help secure the votes for passage of the DREAM Act in the Senate.

Would a sit-in at his office compel him to adopt a new strategy? I personally doubt it, but it’s time for the Congressional member to stop throwing tantrums at the White House and show some real leadership for his community.

The time is now. And failure isn’t an option.

The author is a co-founder of DreamActivist and a frequent contributor to Race and Immigrant Rights blog at Change.org.

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