In Obama’s Second Term, DREAMers Push for an End to All Deportations

Nyki Salinas-Duda January 17, 2013

Students hold a mock graduation ceremony at the U.S. Capitol to push for passage of the DREAM Act in 2004. Now, DREAM-eligible youth are leading a broader movement for comprehensive immigration reform and an end to all deportations.

Inau­gu­ra­tion Day this year will also mark a renewed push for immi­gra­tion reform. On Jan­u­ary 21, as Pres­i­dent Oba­ma is sworn into his sec­ond term, activists in Chica­go will march for an end to deportations.

Orga­niz­ers say they hope to pres­sure Oba­ma, who as of last July had deport­ed a record 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple, to fol­low through on promis­es for com­pre­hen­sive reform. On Sun­day, White House offi­cials this week told the New York Times that immi­gra­tion would be an ear­ly pri­or­i­ty in his sec­ond term. 

The demon­stra­tions are also an attempt to broad­en what some say has been a myopic focus on the DREAM Act and young immi­grants, to the exclu­sion of old­er undoc­u­ment­ed people.

The DREAM Act was intro­duced awhile ago and I real­ly feel like that was just to throw a stick in the line of ants. It kind of made the young peo­ple for­get about the old­er gen­er­a­tion,” Miguel Valdez, a youth orga­niz­er with Chica­go-based Cen­tro Sin Fron­teras, argues. Cen­tro Sin Fron­teras is part of the coali­tion plan­ning a mass march in down­town Chica­go on Jan­u­ary 21.

The DREAM Act, first intro­duced in 2001, would pro­vide a path to cit­i­zen­ship for undoc­u­ment­ed young peo­ple, but there are a host of ifs” involved. To be DREAM-eli­gi­ble, a per­son must have entered the U.S. as a minor, have lived in the coun­try for five years and meet a set of edu­ca­tion­al or mil­i­tary require­ments. Twelve states cur­rent­ly have some form of a DREAM Act on the books.

In Decem­ber the Huff­in­g­ton Post report­ed that Unit­ed We Dream, a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to immi­gra­tion reform, set­tled on a new plat­form dur­ing its three-day nation­al con­fer­ence. In the wake of Obama’s deferred action announce­ment — a vic­to­ry for the move­ment, albeit an ambigu­ous one—the group is launch­ing a push for com­pre­hen­sive reform, and reject­ing a piece­meal approach that aids the young or the edu­cat­ed but divides the broad­er movement. 

In Chica­go, a com­mu­ni­ty responds

In August 2011, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion pledged that pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al dis­cre­tion would be used to halt the removal of detainees with­out crim­i­nal records. But this and oth­er immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy shifts have lacked the teeth of fed­er­al law, and often result­ed in lit­tle change for undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple on the ground. A recent work­place raid in Chica­go is just one in a slew of cas­es that sug­gests the admin­is­tra­tion has not made good on its immi­gra­tion promis­es, but also points the way for­ward for com­mu­ni­ty-based responses.

On Novem­ber 29, thir­ty-four undoc­u­ment­ed men were detained dur­ing a work­place raid at the Chica­go Pal­let Ser­vice, Inc., in Elk Grove Vil­lage, Ill. The fol­low­ing Fri­day, all 34 detainees were back in their Chicagoland residences.

They didn’t evade depor­ta­tion by chance — a coali­tion of Chica­go orga­ni­za­tions were ready with a unique com­mu­ni­ty response that orga­niz­ers say has yield­ed promis­ing results.

After the undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants were detained by Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­men (ICE) agents, their fam­i­lies set a con­tin­gency plan into motion. They con­tact­ed orga­niz­ers with Our Lady of Guadalupe Angli­can Catholic Mis­sion and Lin­coln Unit­ed Methodist Church, based in the most­ly-Lati­no neigh­bor­hoods of Lit­tle Vil­lage and Pilsen, respectively.

By the morn­ing of Novem­ber 30, a small mob of sup­port­ers were inside ICE’s Chica­go field office, demand­ing infor­ma­tion on the iden­ti­ties of the detainees.

It was a joint effort in get­ting our con­gre­ga­tions put togeth­er, mobi­liz­ing all our vol­un­teers, mobi­liz­ing our sol­diers,” says Gio­vany Gomez of Cen­tro Sin Fron­teras, an affil­i­ate of Lin­coln United.

The ini­tial action forced ICE to per­mit a vis­it with the one detainee agents claimed was still on premise — the oth­er 33, they said, had been moved to anoth­er facil­i­ty. Lit­tle Vil­lage res­i­dent Mag­a­li Rente­ria was among the sup­port­ers allowed in to the deten­tion cen­ter. Once she sat down with the remain­ing detainee, Rente­ria says she uncov­ered infor­ma­tion that shift­ed the focus of the cam­paign away from dis­cov­er­ing the where­abouts of the 33 miss­ing men. He told me there were oth­er detainees with him,” she recalls. Despite what ICE agents told the activists, none of the men had been moved, Rente­ria says.

The rev­e­la­tion led sup­port­ers to con­tin­ue their com­mu­ni­ty vig­il out­side of ICE’s down­town field offices. After a nego­ti­a­tion team (includ­ing well-known immi­gra­tion activists José Lan­dav­erde of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Cen­tro Sin Fron­teras founder Emma Lozano) emerged from ICE on the after­noon of Decem­ber 3, fam­i­lies that could afford the $2,000 bond were allowed to pay up. Since arrest­ing ICE agents often have the pow­er to decide the fate of their detainees, orga­niz­ers believe that cas­es that are not chal­lenged gen­er­al­ly end in depor­ta­tion, while those who put up a fight have far bet­ter odds.

Accord­ing to Gomez, detainees who did not have the bond funds were held an addi­tion­al 48 hours before being released on I‑bonds, or per­son­al recog­ni­zance bonds with­out a fee. Nego­tia­tors orig­i­nal­ly hoped to secure I‑bonds for all the men, con­tend­ing that they were all eli­gi­ble as they are active mem­bers of their com­mu­ni­ties and as a result, were like­ly to make required appear­ances in court and did not pose a dan­ger to soci­ety. Two men — one of whom was report­ed­ly only 15 — were held on $6,000 and $10,000 bonds for resist­ing arrest and assault­ing ICE agents. Orga­niz­ers say one of the men slipped and knocked into the agents and that the event has been mis­con­strued by ICE officials. 

The Angli­can Mis­sion and the Church pri­or­i­tize a com­mu­ni­ty — rather than a legal — response to deportation.

Gomez says the orga­ni­za­tions will not appeal to their lawyers until they’ve exhaust­ed com­mu­ni­ty alter­na­tives. Aside from often being cost-pro­hib­i­tive, it’s often unnec­es­sary. Orga­niz­ers say that when the com­mu­ni­ty response makes enough of a spec­ta­cle, detainees with­out crim­i­nal records are often released after a few days.

But sol­i­dar­i­ty is not con­di­tion­al — Gomez notes that detainees with crim­i­nal back­grounds receive the same show of sup­port. Detainees with crim­i­nal records are referred to a legal team, which Gomez says includes some of the best immi­gra­tion lawyers in the city.

Accord­ing to Roza­lin­da Bor­cila of Chicago’s Mora­to­ri­um on Depor­ta­tions Cam­paign, both church­es are well-known in undoc­u­ment­ed and activist cir­cles for facil­i­tat­ing a rapid-fire com­mu­ni­ty response to deten­tion. That’s how the fam­i­lies knew to appeal to them for help, she says — they have already cul­ti­vat­ed a sup­port net­work for the undocumented.

The Mis­sion focused their action on the recent raids and on help­ing to respond to all the detained as a group instead of let­ting the fam­i­lies suf­fer through the expe­ri­ence indi­vid­u­al­ly,” Bor­cila adds. 

And the net­work the two reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions fos­ter is con­stant­ly grow­ing thanks to the trust the Mis­sion and Lin­coln Methodist enjoy amongst undoc­u­ment­ed Chicagoans and their allies. The day after the raids, a fam­i­ly mem­ber met up with orga­niz­ers by acci­dent when he arrived at ICE look­ing for his rel­a­tive. He lat­er joined the Decem­ber 3 demon­stra­tion. Anoth­er man arrived at the ral­ly seek­ing sup­port — his rel­a­tive was one of four peo­ple detained by ICE in Chica­go the day before.

The rapid-fire com­mu­ni­ty response end­ed in a vic­to­ry for the detainees. As of Decem­ber 7, all 34 men detained dur­ing the Chica­go Pal­let raid had been released from ICE cus­tody. Accord­ing to Yese­nia Guer­rero of Cen­tro Sin Fron­teras, a hand­ful are still fac­ing removal proceedings.

The suc­cess has also ener­gized the orga­niz­ing lead­ing up to Jan­u­ary 21’s march. A lot of peo­ple don’t real­ize how much weight they actu­al­ly pull. One per­son can influ­ence so many peo­ple,” Valdez says.

Nyki Sali­nas-Duda is a for­mer Assis­tant Edi­tor at In These Times. She is a Chica­go-based writer and a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at Gozamos. She holds a BA in Latin Amer­i­can his­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of San Francisco.
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