DREAMers Taking a New Tack

If it brings real change for their families, young undocumented immigrants are willing to accept immigration reform without a path to citizenship.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 04: Erika Andiola, who recently resigned her position in the congressional office of Rep. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), speaks at a press conference held by the Dream Action Coalition on immigration reform December 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. Andiola's mother, Maria Andiola, faces deportation proceedings being conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
National Journal
Emily DeRuy, Fusion
Jan. 21, 2014, 10:44 a.m.

DREAM­ers think a new tack is in or­der for 2014 when it comes to im­mig­ra­tion re­form, and they’re will­ing to break with older im­mig­ra­tion ad­voc­ates like Eliseo Med­ina to pur­sue a fam­ily-fo­cused strategy they think will spark real change.

In a re­cently re­leased let­ter, young un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants like Erika An­diola say that the 2013 man­tra, backed by Med­ina and oth­er “old guard” re­formers, of a path to cit­izen­ship for un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants isn’t worth it if it stands in the way of more lim­ited le­gis­lat­ive ac­tion that might ac­tu­ally of­fer their fam­il­ies some day-to-day re­lief.

In an in­ter­view with Fu­sion, Reyna Mon­toya, an Ari­zona DREAM­er and one of the co-au­thors of the let­ter, said the goal should be help­ing fam­il­ies stay to­geth­er.

“Con­gresspeople and even ad­voc­ates get caught up in the D.C. world and for­get what fam­il­ies are ex­per­i­en­cing,” she said.

The young ad­voc­ates would like to see Pres­id­ent Obama ex­tend de­ferred ac­tion, which cur­rently al­lows some un­doc­u­mented young people to re­ceive tem­por­ary de­port­a­tion re­lief, to their par­ents, and end ” se­cure com­munit­ies.”

And they’re will­ing to go against older ad­voc­ates who in­sist they’re hold­ing firm for le­gis­la­tion that in­cludes a path­way to cit­izen­ship to get real change.

“Fo­cus on a prac­tic­al le­gis­lat­ive solu­tion for im­me­di­ate re­lief for fam­il­ies, even if it doesn’t in­clude a spe­cial path to cit­izen­ship,” they im­plored law­makers in the let­ter. “Our fam­il­ies and com­munit­ies need re­lief now, not ideo­lo­gic­al hard lines.”

Cesar Var­gas, a DREAM­er and co-dir­ect­or of the Dream Ac­tion Co­ali­tion, told Fu­sion that the let­ter is in­ten­ded to show politi­cians and ob­serv­ers what “the real voices are say­ing.”

Var­gas stopped short of say­ing older re­formers, like Med­ina, who re­cently told Jorge Ramos he in­ten­ded to fight for what un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants need and not what op­pon­ents want to give, aren’t “real” voices but did say Med­ina “talked cit­izen­ship or noth­ing. We can­not af­ford to walk away with noth­ing.”

The let­ter con­veys the sense of ur­gency among young DREAM­ers who had hoped and ex­pec­ted more ac­tion in 2013. Some would call them young and im­pa­tient, even na­ive to ex­pect real change, but the DREAM­ers point out that it was them who suc­cess­fully lob­bied for the de­ferred ac­tion policy. DREAM­ers have al­ways had their own youth-cent­ric or­gan­iz­a­tions and tac­tics, so it’s not that they’re sud­denly re­fus­ing to bow to the ideas of older re­formers. But a lack of pro­gress on re­form has ex­acer­bated frus­tra­tions over the dif­fer­ence in strategies. As with any is­sue, dif­fer­ent fac­tions tend to get along bet­ter when pro­gress is be­ing made on the main is­sue, in this case, im­prov­ing the lives of un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants.

Mon­toya said she and about five or six oth­er DREAM­ers, in­clud­ing Jose Patiño of the Dream is Now or­gan­iz­a­tion, au­thored the let­ter. That about half the au­thors live in Ari­zona is not ac­ci­dent. Mon­toya, who is from Mesa, was keen to point out that it is fam­il­ies who live in states with laws like SB1070 in place that are im­pacted day-to-day by the lack of move­ment on re­form and that they are sick of wait­ing.

She spent much of the fall in Wash­ing­ton,  lob­by­ing law­makers for change be­fore re­turn­ing to Ari­zona for the hol­i­days, where the DREAM­ers re­grouped and de­veloped the let­ter. It was both a re­flec­tion on the dis­ap­point­ments of 2013 and a call to ac­tion for 2014 — a bit of a New Year’s res­ol­u­tion.

“It’s so politi­cized,” Mon­toya said of the re­form move­ment, “that people for­get how it’s af­fect­ing people who are un­doc­u­mented.”

Mon­toya said she and her fel­low DREAM­ers had more than 200 con­ver­sa­tions with law­makers, mostly Re­pub­lic­ans, dur­ing her time in Wash­ing­ton, and that the law­makers told them that they “can­not be ser­i­ous about re­form when we have Harry Re­id” and oth­er demo­crat­ic lead­ers telling law­makers that “com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form is the only way.”

Mon­toya and the DREAM­ers are fed up with the polit­ics and don’t par­tic­u­larly care wheth­er politi­cians in the House see it as a Demo­crat­ic or Re­pub­lic­an is­sue, but they say they re­cog­nize that they need “an al­tern­at­ive” that might be more pal­at­able for House Re­pub­lic­ans.

“We need to see pieces of le­gis­la­tion. We can­not af­ford to say cit­izen­ship or noth­ing,” she said.

Mon­toya said DREAM­ers “tried to ask” Med­ina and older staunch cit­izen­ship sup­port­ers about their stance. The dia­logue was “very in­form­al,” she said, but “I was very vo­cal about say­ing in Decem­ber, ‘This is not mov­ing for­ward.’ Their re­sponse was, like, ‘We can­not be ne­go­ti­at­ing against ourselves.’”

Mon­toya and Var­gas don’t see it as in­fight­ing, though.

“I was try­ing to ex­press that it’s not about ne­go­ti­at­ing, it’s about hav­ing an open dia­logue,” she said, adding that the cit­izen­ship-only re­frain is “a dis­con­nect with what the com­munity wants and the polit­ic­al power struc­ture we live in.”

“Not to im­pune the work the [older] ad­voc­ates are do­ing, Var­gas said, “but this [let­ter] is to be­come con­scious of the is­sue. As we ap­proach the elec­tion, the lan­guage is com­ing closer to talk­ing points for the elec­tion. Cit­izen­ship or noth­ing is be­com­ing the lan­guage for the Demo­crats and we’re try­ing to pre­vent that and fo­cus back on policy.”

“If some people feel like there is a di­vi­sion,” he con­tin­ued, “that’s be­cause there is a di­vi­sion between those fo­cus­ing on the is­sue and those fo­cus­ing on the elec­tions and polit­ics. We’re not go­ing to tol­er­ate the elect­or­al games.”

The DREAM­ers place a sig­ni­fic­ant por­tion of the blame on the pres­id­ent and say he has failed to take ac­tion, like ex­tend­ing de­ferred ac­tion, that could bring real re­lief. And they, like the older ad­voc­ates, would still like to see a path to cit­izen­ship come to fruition, but they think Obama has hurt the chances of that hap­pen­ing and aren’t in­tent on hold­ing out for it.

“Pres­id­ent Obama is mak­ing it dif­fi­cult,” Var­gas said. “He is dam­aging the pro­spect of cit­izen­ship.”

Var­gas also cri­ti­cized the pres­id­ent for fail­ing “to lead on stop­ping de­port­a­tion” and said that fail­ure was the main im­petus be­hind the let­ter.

“It was es­sen­tial that we did something dif­fer­ent,” Mon­toya said of writ­ing the let­ter. She said Patiño did send the let­ter to Med­ina via email but that she hasn’t heard much re­ac­tion from him or his peers.

“I think the role that they do is very im­port­ant,” she said of re­formers like Med­ina. “They just see strategy dif­fer­ently. It’s a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.”

“This is healthy,” she con­tin­ued. “We’re try­ing to provide a new dif­fer­ent way of think­ing. We’re try­ing to do our best, and I think they’re try­ing to do their best, so…Unity doesn’t mean uni­form­ity. We’re united. We have the same goals. We want re­lief…We just feel as un­doc­u­mented people we need something in 2014 and we can­not be wait­ing for the right Con­gress.”

A spokes­man for Med­ina said he was trav­el­ing and un­avail­able for in­ter­views.

This art­icle is pub­lished with per­mis­sion from Fu­sion, a TV and di­git­al net­work that cham­pi­ons a smart, di­verse and in­clus­ive Amer­ica. Fu­sion is a part­ner of Na­tion­al Journ­al and The Next Amer­ica. Fol­low the au­thor on Twit­ter: @Emily_­DeR­uy

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