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Hope Deferred No Longer: A Dreamer’s Reflection

1 Jul

Guest Blogger: Juve Meza (Just Don’t Him Thugcito)

TIP Preface

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.

Founders of NAVIGATE, 2007

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.

National Politics

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.

Dreamers’ often aggressive tactics of direct action were not always welcome by other immigrant rights advocates.

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.

Uriel Rosales, NAVIGATE Board Chair, spoke at a press conference with the Minneapolis City Council (June 28, 2012)

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).

Celebrating

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.

On June 29th, hundreds waited in line for for a workshop on the Deferred Action Policy held at SEIU Local 26.

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).

A packed house at the workshop, co-sponsored by NAVIGATE, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, SEIU Local 26, and the Consulate of Mexico.

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.

Caution: Future Leaders of America.

[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.]

Arizona: Sure It’s Hate. But it’s a Dry Hate. (Thoughts on The Supreme Court’s SB1070 Decision)

26 Jun

For the record, I tweeted that joke well before Jon Stewart used it on the Daily Show.

In 2010, I took a leave from Local 26 to spend five months in Washington DC leading SEIU’s national immigration campaign.  Our goal was to move our immigration work beyond a policy operation and into a more aggressive campaign. No sooner had I arrived in DC immigration news, which had been on a backburner of public policy debates, came back to the forefront thanks to Jan Brewer’s Arizona.

Having spent a lot of time thinking about, campaigning against, mocking, and studying Arizona’s immigration law, I can say today’s ruling was generally positive — with one important exception (see below).

Jan Brewer’s declaration of “victory” notwithstanding, the High Court struck three of the four provisions it considered and reaffirmed the federal preemption of state immigration laws.  The Supreme Court slapped down the notion that we could have a 50-state patchwork of immigration laws.  Its decision also reinforced in important ways the discretion the federal government has in enforcing immigration violations — which is to say, the court implicitly and preemptively shot down any notion, for example, that President Obama exceeded the authority of the federal government when he recently announced that the federal government would halt the deportation of many young immigrants.

SEIU’s national immigration campaign spoofed Arizona’s law in 2010.

The Good: “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.”

How’s that for a line if you’re looking for something, pro-immigrant and positive in the Court ruling? (p.15).

A lot has already been written about how the decision“was largely (but not entirely) a victory for the federal government.”   (For a handy summary of the decision, see the ACLU’s infographic here). I’d like to focus on one particular aspect of the decision: its implicit reinforcement of  the Obama administration’s recent changes in immigration enforcement priorities.

The decision goes on at length reaffirming not just the federal preemption of immigration laws but also the discretion the executive branch has in enforcing those laws:

“Congress has specified which aliens may be removed from the United States and the procedures for doing so. Aliens may be removed if they were inadmissible at the time of entry, have been convicted of certain crimes, or meet other criteria set be federal law.  … Removal is a civil, not criminal, matter. A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials.” (p.4)

And then, in a line that could have written for President Obama’s June 15 policy announcement, the majority opinion states:

“Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns.  Unauthorized workers trying to support their families, for example, likely pose less danger than alien smugglers or aliens who commit a serious crime.” (p.4)

Essentially, the Court states exactly what the Administration argued on June 15th that had anti-immigrant politicians heads exploding and had Mitt Romney’s tongue tied into knots. The Administration argued that it had the authority to prioritize enforcement and that the right thing to do was to de-prioritize and halt the deportation of hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the US by their parents and family and have led good lives in the only country they know as home.

In his dissent, Scalia noted precisely the implication of this reasoning when it came to the recent Obama announcement. And he had a conniption fit.

Lo Feo in Today’s Decision: ‘Show me Your Papers’ Provision Upheld, for now

Brewer and the author of SB1070 Kris Kobach declared today’s ruling a victory because it upheld the provision that allowed police to request immigration documents if they have reason to suspect the person is in the country illegally.

Not so fast on corking that champagne, Kris and Jan.

First, what the Court essentially said was that we had to wait and see if the law as applied in a manner that violated federal law (eg, that it enabled racial profiling) before it could be blocked. “It was improper to enjoin 2(B) before the state courts had an opportunity to construe it and without some showing that 2(B)’s enforcement in fact conflicts with federal immigration law and its objectives.”

In addition, the decision states: “This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.”

The Court ruled that the Arizona legislature had prettied  up the SB1070 law enough that we could not yet prove that it would lead to racial profiling. And let us not forget that racial profiling was precisely the intention of the bill as originally written.

We should remember that it was only as a result of a public outcry over SB1070 as an encouragement of racial profiling that Governor Brewer signed a subsequent law, House File 2162, that modified the bill she originally signed. It was only with this new bill that 1070 was re-written to explicitly state that racial profiling cannot be the proof for reasonable suspicion of undocumented status. The revision also changed the circumstances under which someone could be required to give proof of documentation.  While the original SB1070 as passed and signed by Brewer said this occur any time there was “contact” with a police officer, under the new revisions they could only ask papers of those they “stop, detain or arrest.”

Advocates argued that these revisions were still not enough to prevent racial profiling. The High Court said, “well, maybe, but you have to let them do it first.” Not exactly comforting, but –In a word–the fight is not over.

Today’s ruling created other stumbling blocks for implementing the law as Arizona legislators had intended.

As the Boston Herald reports:

“There was a catch, however. The court decided that officers cannot detain anyone on an immigration violation. That is, unless federal immigration officials say so.

“Hours after the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security canceled agreements with seven Arizona police departments that deputized officers to arrest people on immigration violations while on street patrol.

“Federal immigration officers will help, but only if doing so conforms to the department’s priorities, including catching repeat violators and identifying and removing those who threaten public safety and national security, the department said.”

In the words of one analyst: “Five Justices cut out three lobes on S.B. 1070, and leave one on life support.”

From a protest outside the White House when Jan Brewer met with President Obama in 2010.

Immigration Politics and the GOP

You can’t blame Jan Brewer for trying to claim total victory, even if it does get her mocked in a press conference.

And we must admit that, so far, SB1070 has not hurt her electoral career. So far. But remember back when Pete Wilson championed Prop 187? Everyone said that was good politics for him then – and it was for a while. It also made the state unwinnable for Republicans running for president in the years since. Demographic trends in Arizona tell us the very same could be true there very soon.

The Romney campaign – knowing the political realities of demographic trends and the simultaneous problem they have with their anti-immigrant political base, had a tough time coming up with a response to today’s ruling. For some fun, watch“Romney Spokesman Dodges 20 Questions on Romney’s Immigration Position.”

It’s a by-now familiar tune. So familiar, even Republicans paid to make excuses for their candidate are growing tired. Latina Republican talking head Ana Navarro tweeted,”I confess, as a Republican Hispanic, trying to put positive spin on Romney immigration (non)statements, well, let’s just say it ain’t easy.”

Ay, mija.

In a written statement, Mr. Romney said “I believe that each state has the duty – and the right – to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities.”

So, reacting to the Supreme Court decision, Mr. Romney said he believes states have the right to do exactly what the court reaffirmed today they cannot do – preempt federal law.

As a friend commented in an email, “No time for constitutional niceties when you are in hot pursuit of a whites-only electoral coalition, I guess.”

Indeed.

The GOP has some splainin’ to do to the Latino Community

22 Jun

I was just thinking back yesterday to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and then I ran into this story about how Sotomayor still receives gift from fans in the public.

While I have not (yet) sent Justice Sotomayor a gift, I confess that on the day of President Obama’s announcement of her appointment, I was a kind of giddy that would have been embarrassing had anybody witnessed it.  Leaving the gym early that morning, I stopped in a shopping mall parking lot, pulled out my laptop and watched the announcement online. When she talked about her mom and the cameras panned to her–well, yes, I kind of lost it.

A hero to many in the Latino community, Justice Sotomayor still receives gifts from the public.

I’ve been thinking back to Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing this week, watching the slow-motion train wreck that has been the Romney campaign and the Republican Party’s reactions to President Obama’s dramatic announcement last week granting relief to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants.

Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings were covered by Latino media the way, back in the day, everyone else covered the O.J. Trial. And, although all the pundits agreed that her confirmation was certain, the Latino public nonetheless saw Sotomayor being grilled by a small group of Senators as some kind of crazy radical.

Senator Tom Coburn, confronting Sotomayor about her supposed extremism, dug deep into the synapses of his small brain where he houses Latino stereotypes and pulled up – who else? – Ricky Ricardo!  Sonia, he said, “you have some splainin’ to do.”

And some in the GOP wonder why their brand is so damaged in the Latino community?

During the primary, Sotomayor was a favorite punching bag for Romney. He criticized Rick Santorum for his 1996 vote to confirm Sotomayor to a federal circuit court and was so tone deaf as to even criticize Sotomayor, the boricua Justice, when on a campaign stop in Puerto Rico (where he also encouraged Puerto Ricans to speak English).

President Obama’s Announcement, Romney at NALEO y la Baladada de Marco Rubio

I looked to Univisión yesterday to see how they were covering Mitt Romney’s much touted address to NALEO – the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials – and the headline says it all. “Romney changes tone but offers little substance.”

Although his campaign promised that the NALEO speech would finally bring details to his immigration policy, Mr. Romney couldn’t even bring himself to say whether he would reverse President Obama’s order to halt the deportations of young immigrants. But we know Romney is between a rock and hard place. Congressional Republicans have lined up against Obama’s policy, making it easier for the President to get full credit from the Latino community –new poll shows the President up big with Latinos in swing states–and impossible for Mitt to speak with any clarity.

No one’s felt the GOP Latino Multiple Personality Disorder more than the Senator from Florida, el pobrecito Marco Rubio.

First, when Mr. Romney turned to the Senator’s Dream Act Lite idea to explain his non-position on the day of the Obama announcement, some said Mr. Rubio’s VP chances had risen.

Then came news that Marquito was not being vetted.

It was awkward timing for that story to get out, given that immigration was the topic of the week.  So Romney backtracked and assured everyone that el Senador was definitely being vetted. Totally.

But wait – then news got out of a super exclusive retreat with the Romney campaign that included a sleep-over for all the potential V.P. candidates. But someone forgot to invite Marco!

As we say in Puerto Rico, Pobre, Marco – lo tienen del tingo al tango.

Maybe the Senator can put in a call to Sonia to ask for some sisterly advice:

Óyeme, Sonia, how did you put up with these guys?”

Te lo Dije: According to the Post, Marco Rubio not being vetted for V.P.

19 Jun

Did I not say, when it comes to Romney VP picks, Incredibly Boring White Guys, Get in Line?

Today the Washington Post is reporting that Mr. Dream Act Lite is not being seriously vetted by the Romney campaign.

While some like Chris Cillizza argued that the VP fortunes of el senador de Florida had risen as a result of Mr. Obama’s dramatic announcement last Friday of a change in immigration policy, I have thought that to be non-sensical.  (Cillizza has re-considered his analysis as of today’s report). The Administration essentially enacted Rubio’s imaginary Diet Dream Act (he never actually wrote a bill) last week with the stroke of a pen. After that, what does Mr. Rubio actually offer a Romney ticket? A reminder to the Latino community that he and the GOP still oppose a real, permanent solution – a path to citizenship for undocumented people?

A favorite in conservative straw polls, Marco Rubio can make the cover of the National Review but apparently not the Romney vetting machine.

Of course, in the end, things could change and maybe the Romney team could end up picking Rubio, who they say today they are not vetting.

One can Dream — the last time the GOP picked a Lightly Vetted V.P. Candidate things got way fun.

So whose VP fortunes are rising? 

According to the Post, at the top of the list is Minnesota’s own Tim Pawlenty, who is being described today by an unnamed Romney advisor not as an Incredibly Boring White Guy but rather an “an incredible warrior.”

Warrior?

The guy who fled from the presidential campaign the second he was embarrassed in the Iowa Straw Poll by Michele Bachmann, the Congresswoman from Minnesiowa?

Incredible Indeed.

Mitt Romney and the GOP Caught Between Etch-A-Sketch and Hot Potato

18 Jun 2010 May Day March

Dios mío, It’s enough to give you whiplash.

The President literally could not get the words of Friday’s announcement out of his mouth before he was heckled by a right-winger posing as a journalist.

Some in the press seem to have bought Marco Rubio’s line that Obama’s announcement has made him reconsider his much anticipated Dream Act Lite. Please. Senator Rubio, already wearing down from Congressman Luis Gutiérrez’s rope-a-dope call on his bluff, had never put pen to paper on his Diet Dream for one simple reason: he knew it would have never gone anywhere given his Republican colleagues’ filibusterismo.

And, of course, there is the fact that Friday’s DHS directives do exactly what Dream Act Zero would have done – provide work permits but not a path to citizenship for young immigrants – there really is no point to his legislation and perhaps no point to the Senator.  The Gentleman from Florida complains that the President’s actions make a permanent solution more difficult, hoping we’ll all forget that he and his party oppose a permanent solution–Comprehensive Immigration Reform with a path to citizenship.

2010 May Day March

2010 Minneapolis May Day March for Immigration Reform. Photo by Rafael Morataya.

The Republican standard-bearer and his surrogates have been flailing, trying to explain his/their position on the Obama policy and on immigration more generally.

The Worst Surrogate Award goes to Rick Santorum, who made the mistake of telling the truth — that Romney’s problem was that he was trying “not to sound like he’s hostile to Latinos.”

Sound like.

Lest we all forget all the ways in which he was openly hostile to Latinos during the primary.

But that was so long ago.  Now, surrogate Tim Pawlenty is walking back Romney’s threat to veto the Dream Act.

One Romney advisor even said over the weekend that the Governor’s position on immigration was the same as Obama’s!

But while even Bill Kristol said that the President’s action was “the right thing to do,” this has not been a seamless Etch-A-Sketch moment.

Asked three times, the candidate himself couldn’t bring himself to say whether or not he’d reverse the President’s order. Come on, Mittens, Bill Kristol’s got your back.  ¿Por qué tan tímido?

Could it be he fears the anti-immigrant base that he played to during the primary, the one whose spokespeople in Congress have been the stumbling block to a permanent solution to our broken immigration system?  And what were those anti-immigrant usual suspects in Congress saying last Friday? Why, they were demanding that a President Romney reverse the policy.

Oh, and the man whose endorsement Mitt Romney sought during the primary — the hateful Sheriff Joe Arpaio – what was he doing the day of the announcement? I haven’t read any reports on his reaction to the policy change, but we’ll cut him some slack for being unavailable: as all this was going down last Friday, he was busy arresting a six year-old immigrant.

Lessons From Today’s Victory for Immigrant Rights

15 Jun

Today’s announcement by the Obama Administration of a “deferred action process” for young immigrants is a huge deal.  It’s just a first step in fixing a horribly unjust and illogical immigration system, but it is a big one.  First, what it is and what it isn’t, and then some preliminary thoughts on lessons to be learned from this victory and the politics of immigration in this election year (Preview: My prediction is that this is a very bad day for Marco Rubio).

What this means, what it doesn’t

This is not a full-scale administrative implementation of the Dream Act, legislation with broad bipartisan support that has nonetheless never been able to overcome filibusters by a small minority of anti-immigrant Senators. Today’s actions will not put anyone on a path to citizenship. Only legislation can accomplish that.

What this does do is provide immediate relief for persons in deportation proceedings who meet the following criteria:

  1. Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;

    The Obama Administration’s announcement came just a day after this Time Magazine cover story on Dream Activists was released.

  2. Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;
  3. Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
  4. Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
  5. Are not above the age of thirty.

This goes one important step further than the 2011 announcement that gave new guidance for prosecutorial discretion in deportation cases.  Within sixty days, the Department of Homeland Security will establish a process for eligible persons to make affirmative requests for relief – meaning that people aren’t going to have to get “caught” by ICE in order to begin adjusting their status.  This is an enormous step forward.

Lessons Learned, One: Young activists were right, DC and other establishment immigrant rights advocates were wrong

When President Obama rode a tidal wave of Hope into office, too many institutional progressives like my union, SEIU, accepted the logic of an administration that was telling us, “first we’ll do healthcare – then we’ll get to labor law reform, immigration reform, etc.”  Although I always thought it was overly ambitious, I look back now on plans we at SEIU had that assumed that all three would be passed in the first one hundred days of the administration and am not sure whether I should be stifling laughs or tears.

On immigrant rights, an entire infrastructure was set up, funded largely by foundations, to move federal immigration reform.  There were field offices, staff, phone banks set up – you name it.  What was set up, however, was a massive lobbying operation – not a movement-building infrastructure to create political pressure to demand reform.

While immigrant rights organizations in DC lobbied the administration, we all ultimately followed a path of keeping fairly quiet “until healthcare got done.”  And when that debate blew up far beyond what anyone imagined after the Tea Party August of 2009, we never recovered.

There was one exception to this rule – Dream Activists.  They never let up on direct action as a tactic, staging sit-ins in the offices of Congress people, “coming out” as undocumented and unafraid, taking part of in “Trail of Dreams” walk from Florida to Washington DC to focus attention on their fight.

I admit, that when young activists I cared about talked about “coming out,” I played the part of the concerned Dad wary of risk –  “Ay, mijo, no hagas eso. Eso es peligroso.”  Luckily I have no children of my own to face my shame directly, but to every Dreamer I must say: I’m sorry. You were right. I was wrong. You were bold.  And you were right.

In 2010, I took a leave of absence from my union to lead SEIU’s national immigration campaign.  I took part in meetings with White House officials, leaders of other organizations at precisely the time that Jan Brewer’s Arizona brought immigration back to the forefront of the national consciousness.  One thing I can tell you for certain – in all of the tables I saw, at least, young people – the Dream Activists—were not present.  This was eventually remedied once more people realized what the Dreamers knew: their activism was working, our patience was not.

While Dreamers were shushed by those of us who “knew better,” one thing is undeniable: In the past few years, youth activism has made the Dream Act the only piece of positive immigration legislation that has been voted on in DC in recent years. Their success, however, has not been limited to moving the administration in positive ways.  While the Dream Act legislation has always had bipartisan support, this year the Dream Act has become a wedge issue in the Republican Party.  Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, himself once opposed to the Dream Act in any form, has talked about introducing his own watered down version of the Dream Act – although he has yet to put pen to paper (and today’s announcement makes his Dream Act Lite superfluous (more on that later).

Lessons Learned, Two: Progressive Politics Benefits from a Left Flank

While the Republican Party seems to have an insatiable appetite for feeding its increasingly radical base, there seems to be a very different tendency in the Democratic Party.  When Democrats are in power, the tendency seems to be to govern in the way described above. We’re told to be patient, be quiet, and  everything will come in time. And too many of us listen.

What the Dreamers did through their confrontational style was to force their issue to be constantly on the front burner.  Yes, they made people uncomfortable. But they understood that their role as activists was different than the role of a policymaker or a DC lobbyist. The activist creates the cultural space for change to happen.  The policymaker follows, does not lead.

Lessons Learned, Three: We Need Victories, Even Small Ones, Even “First Steps”

In the first years of the Administration, the objection I and others had to moving the Dream Act independently of full, comprehensive reform stemmed from a belief that if we were going to have to take on an epic cultural battle, we might as well not settle on anything less than a path to citizenship for all immigrants living in the shadows. With opposition in the Republican Party to any amount of immigration reform being so vicious, I believed that a legislative victory would require an epic, cultural battle – one we have lost time and time again in recent years.

When talking today to two Dream Activists still trying to assimilate the good news, I was reminded of a lesson I should have never forgotten: the movement needs victories, even partial ones, even “first steps.”

So many immigrants come to this country with one thought on their mind: “I want my children’s lives to be better than mine.”  Today’s announcement, while providing relief only to those children, it breathes renewed hope into the lives of their elders.

The Politics of Today’s Announcement:

I’ve been asked by reporters today if today’s announcement was “just political,” a charge already made by the Romney campaign.

My first, cynical reaction is: So what if it is?  This is what politics is about, why we have elections every four years.  People make a case for change and eventually someone listens. Even if they’re only listening out of political expedience, if the change is good – who cares?

The Administration would say that this is a logical next step to a process they have tried to follow to right the path of immigration enforcement priorities.  Just as we don’t want our local police to prioritize the prosecution of children stealing gum from a corner store over apprehending and jailing murderers, we need an immigration system that targets real criminals, not law-abiding people earning a living – or in this case, children brought to this country who have led a productive life.  While this is literally true, it is also inescapable that the announcement today will be read in the context of an election cycle where Latinos (who overwhelmingly support the Dream Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform) will play a key role.

My Prediction: Today’s Announcement was Bad News for Marco Rubio

While Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post seems to think today’s announcement boosts Senator Rubio’s chances of becoming Mitt Romney’s running mate, I’ll go out on a limb here and predict the opposite.

Today the Administration effectively implemented Senator Rubio’s “Dream Act Lite” idea through administrative action.  Remember, his “proposal” is really just an “idea” as he has not seen fit to actually write a bill.  He has said the essential difference between the bipartisan-crafted Dream Act and his bill is that the young people covered would receive work visas but not a path to citizenship.

One reason Senator Rubio might not have yet put pen to paper: even in his Day Dreams he knows that a watered down version won’t survive Republican opposition to any immigration reform.   Mr. Romney hasn’t even been willing to say if he supported the Senator’s idea, saying only that he had to “study the issue.” And, today, when Univisión, Telemundo, and Latino households across the country will be discussing, debating, and celebrating the President’s policy move – the Romney campaign called it “illegal.”

Mr. Romney is in quite a bind.  He needs Latinos, but he also has to placate the likes of vicious immigrant haters like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Kris Kobach.

As the anti-immigrant base starts to get its hackles up about Romney caving on immigration, I predict, Senator Rubio’s prospects will decline.  Already, the GOP is having a tough time coming up with a consistent, coherent response to the announcement.

In sum, as far as VP picks go, I say: Get in line, “Incredibly Boring White Guys,” your day has come!