Guest Blogger: Juve Meza (Just Don’t Him Thugcito)
For my first post for this blog, written on the day of President Obama’s announcement of a Deferred Action Policy that will keep hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from being deported, I reflected on the Lessons we could all learn from the activism, passion, and optimism of Dream Activists. Admitting I was one of the older advocates concerned with the aggressiveness of their strategy and tactics, I wrote: “I’m sorry. You were right. I was wrong. You were bold. And you were right.”
Today’s guest blog is by the person I was most thinking of when writing that line. Juve is a brilliant and tireless young activist I met when he was a student at Augsburg College, where–amongst other accomplishments– he was elected student body president. He tells the story here of NAVIGATE, a group he co-founded with other young immigrants who decided to take their futures into their own hands and created a network for undocumented students to learn about educational opportunities available to them.
Meet Juve and other Dreamers and you will see how bizarre it is that the conversation about immigration reform has revolved around the question – Should we let them stay? Let them stay? – this country needs these young people.
As I read his reflection, and think of the past few weeks, I am reminded once again of how desperately the immigrant community needed a victory, even a partial one, even a first step. And I am reminded of this poem by the great Langston Hughes:
A Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Hope Deferred No Longer: A Dreamer’s Reflection (by Juventino Meza)
We are students, parents, brothers and sisters, partners, wives, husbands. More importantly, we are DREAMers.
We began NAVIGATE in reaction to the lack of knowledge in the community about going to college. In 2007, years of work resulted in a law in Minnesota that offered flat-rate tuition for all 18 campuses in the MNSCU system. This gave access to many undocumented students to go beyond high school. As young people, we pressured Republican Governor Pawlenty to sign a pro-immigrant law even though he promised to do everything in his power to block our efforts. We won. We realized many then did not know their options for college before and even after the law passed. Policy couldn’t be the only focus.
In the summer of 2007, five young people begun NAVIGATE to provide Minnesota-focused information to other undocumented students. Our personal experience in school was that most people around us did not know how to help us go to college. Many of our friends dropped out of high school—“why graduate and go to college and not be able to use my education and end up with the same job I can get today?” many would ask. There wasn’t information for students, many of our families didn’t know either, and many in our schools did not know or would tell us we couldn’t go to college.
We wanted other students coming after us to not struggle as much to pursue their dreams. That first summer we created a website, stories of undocumented students to share via video, documents that explained the process to college in MN for undocumented students, a scholarship list, and we started going to around the state to share our stories and inspire others to stay in school, go to college, and help pass laws that benefit us and our families.
Sadly, many of the immigration policies around the nation have been detrimental to our communities. Arizona. Alabama. Georgia. Lino Lakes, Minnesota. And the list goes on. The border is more militarized than it has ever been. While we all know that a comprehensive and humane immigration reform is needed because of our current broken immigration system, our congressional leaders haven’t been willing to take on to the task. The defeats have been far too many. Our community is terrorized.
In addition, the politics around immigration are toxic. The DREAM Act passed with a majority of votes in the US Senate (it passed the House of Representatives) and President Obama promised to sign it. Unfortunately, some Senators succumbed to anti-immigrant sentiment in the nation and blocked it. President Obama unfortunately too has been willing to cater to the anti-immigrants in hopes to pass immigration reform. For that, many of our families have been split, thousands have been deported.
Further more, we have seen Republican candidates for president use some of the most vile rhetoric around immigration in recentyears (but we should have expected so after Sen. McCain – who had once championed immigration reform, co-authoring a bill with Ted Kenned– choosing to run as an anti-immigrant in 2008). Now, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney during the campaign trail said he would veto the DREAM Act, would nationalize Arizona’s law, SB1070, and advocated to make people’s lives unbearable to the point where people (us, our families, our children, students, grandparents) self-deport.
Gracias a Nuestros Padres
Many who would benefit from the DREAM Act, if passed, were young when arrived to the U.S. Many politicians and supporters who advocate for the DREAM Act tend to blame our parents. “These kids came here with no fault of their own. Why punish them for their parents’ decisions?” some ask. Our parents are being criminalized – even by advocates.
Our parents, when asked why we are here, always say they wanted a better life for their children. As their children, there is nothing to blame them for, but thank them. Thanks to our parents we are here, moving forward, and we have opportunities we would not have were we anywhere else in the world. Their sacrifices to give us a better life are a reality and every day that goes by we are thankful to them, our parents.
Small Victories, but Victories
For better or worse, as the conversation has shifted from comprehensive immigration reform to something that would benefit only young people, we have won a few victories. First of all, Republican Governor Tim Pawletny promised to veto and block any policies that would benefit undocumented students in MN. In 2007, as young people, we pressured him to sign the Flat-rate Tuition bill, which has benefited many undocumented and US citizen students.
For many months now, young people have been pressuring President Oabama to sign an Executive Order granting relief to youth. While the politics around pro-immigrants are still toxic, on June 15, 2012 President Obama announced the Deferred Action Policy that will benefit hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, Latinos to not fear deportation and be able to legally work and travel in the U.S.
On June 29, the City of Minneapolis announced its endorsement of the President’s policy and encouraged the Homeland Security to interpret the policy broadly so that even more young people can benefit. Again, another small victory for young people.
In politics, we can also see more victories. While Presidential candidate Romney had used abhorrent proposals as central to his vision around immigration while running for the GOP nomination, today young people have pushed him to the point where he isn’t saying anything about vetoing the DREAM Act, Arizona’s law, or self-deportation. He has changed his rhetoric. He cannot run as extremist around immigration any longer (even though we all know what he has already said).
On June 30, 2012, we held a forum to inform people about President Obama’s Deferred Action Policy. When deciding what to actually do, for the first time we published the address of the event, something we would only share with those registered. We realized that the fear many felt was much less than in other times. About 150 registered. We had about 300 people present, where even a line went outside of the SEIU Local 26 offices! (Event was sponsored by NAVIGATE, Immigrant Law Center of MN, SEIU Local 26, and the Mexican Consulate)
We had a full house, people standing for two hours; we were all excited to be there, learn, and celebrate this victory. For many young people, it was the first time they had ever publicly acknowledged their immigration status. And for many if it was also the first time they had ever attended an event about and for them—again a testament of how we are changing the environment around immigrant rights in our community.
The few victories we have won have been in part because young people are escalating their actions to not wait any longer and demand change. We’ve pushed establishment organizations in Minnesota and nationally to accept small victories. We know that these policies only benefit young people; our goal is to pass comprehensive immigration reform that will also benefit our parents, nothing less.
While we get there (to pass policies) we must keep vigilant and make sure that everyone knows their options for college, stays in school, avoids risks, and is engaged in making these changes happen.
As for NAVIGATE, today we are a team of people committed to other undocumented students in Minnesota and support national efforts that will benefit us all. We are willing to go anywhere in the state to talk about college, and present about actual possibilities for undocumented to go to college. We will always have undocumented students present to share their inspiring stories. We want everyone to hear positive, inspiring stories about being undocumented and succeeding. (For more information, visit www.navigatemn.org, like us on facebook.com/NAVIGATE.MN).
Now personally, I am exhilarated by the newest development. Deferred Action Policy is not a norm and there is no way future presidents would go after it (which means going after thousands of young people). President Obama’s public support for same-sex marriage is also super exciting. This also means that we are going after DOMA full force. And the push for the DREAM Act becomes ever more possible. Exciting times these are. Exciting times.
[I do want to disclose that if it was up to me, CIR would be my top priority. Politics has made that impossible. I also think that the DREAM Act becomes more and more narrow every year to the point that sometimes I wish we would reintroduce it so that more people can benefit. However, I will do everything I can to pass it because this DREAM, even narrow, has the potential to benefit thousands and provide a path to citizenship – which the Deferred Action policy alone does not do. And that is worth fighting for.]