Tag Archives: immigration

“Some Democrats” Suck – Or Maybe Not

9 May

This week Hillary Clinton took a surprisingly bold stance on immigration, one that goes further than President Obama and that both reporters and partisans have acknowledged put Republicans in a box.

Sorry Marco, you can't backtrack your way back to supporting immigration reform.

“Sorry Marco, you can’t backtrack your way back to supporting immigration reform”

How do we know it put Republicans in a box?  Because the response from the other side has been, for the most part, crickets.

This morning The Hill covered the issue, also acknowledging the corner into which Clinton had painted Republicans, but with a caveat:

Hillary Clinton has thrilled immigration activists with her embrace of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

It’s also thrilled Democrats, who think Clinton has taken a smart political step to solidifying support among Hispanics for their party in next year’s presidential election.
They argue the GOP’s restrained response to Clinton shows Republicans are worried about the issue, particularly given the nation’s rising Hispanic population.

“It’s definitely a very aggressive approach in attempting to court the Hispanic vote,” said Mercedes Viana Schlapp, who served as a Spanish-language spokesperson for President George W. Bush.

In part because they have backed immigration reform in the past, Republicans hope former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) could make inroads with Hispanics. But even some GOP critics of Clinton such as Schlapp acknowledge that Clinton may have made the party’s task more difficult.

So what’s The Hill‘s caveat? “Some Democrats privately fear Clinton may have promised too much,” they tell us.  Now we’re used to DC reporters allowing politicos to comment anonymously.  But, guess what? — they don’t even have anonymous sources for this one.

Go read the whole article.  They state as fact that “some democrats privately fear” but don’t even bother to tell us who these people might be or where this might have been heard.  Maybe some are saying it — they just don’t give us any actual evidence this is the case.

Earlier today, I committed a Twitter sin — I forwarded the above article before reading it, reacting to the headline, which used that “Democrats privately fearing” line that no one said.  My take: “Screw those Democrats.”

But it turns out The Hill may be making those Democrats up.

Now, if they looked hard enough I imagine the journal could dig up a weak-kneed Democrat to say something along those lines.  Or maybe, just maybe, this actually just was the correct political move for Clinton and for the Democratic Party.  Maybe that’s why the Republicans the story did quote pretty much said so.

The reality is that the politics of immigration have changed dramatically in the past few election cycles.  For many Latino voters–even those who do not list immigration reform as their top issue–nonetheless see the issue as a litmus test for the question “Does this politician like us?” Pollster Latino Decisions calls immigration a “gateway issue” for Latino voters.

And with Latinos in 2016 poised to be an even greater share of the electorate that in the past two cycles voted upwards of 70% for Obama — Republicans are right to be quaking in their boots.

Maybe The Hill couldn’t find a Democrat to actually say those words to them is a sign that the mainstream of the Democratic Party is finally getting that.

This Latino can dream. 

Through Pain, Towards Joy: Thoughts on the President’s Immigration Announcement

20 Nov

I wrote this recently as a reflection of a difficult period in my career as a union leader and organizer. I remembered it today as I watched news coverage of President Obama’s announcement tonight (Thursday) that he will take executive action to provide temporary relief for millions of immigrants living in the US but in the shadows. It weaves the very personal with a story about organizing work, and it feels incomplete, but I thought I’d post this today as a personal reflection on this moment. The president’s announcement is only a partial victory; we cannot fully celebrate until our laws are actually fixed. We must go beyond temporary fixes. This does, however, seem like a good moment to reflect on the pain we have been living and on the work ahead we have to create a future of joy.

This vacation was supposed to be a break from stress. It was on the tail end of a short sabbatical from work, and the hot sun on this beautiful beach in Puerto Morelos, 30 minutes south of Cancun, was supposed to be a reprieve. But no sooner had I put on shorts and gone out onto the sand, I noticed the spot on my foot and I start to panic. I know what that is. And it’s not the first one so I definitely know what that is. I tell myself not to freak out, that after a week of sunning I’ll see if it goes away. And I actually did manage to forget it. But on Friday of that week, when I was admiring my tan brown body –I’m Puerto Rican, I get very dark in the sun—and there is that one spot, as discolored and white as it had been before, now standing out even more from my tanned skin.

I know what this is and a few days later my doctor in Minnesota confirms it. He took one look at the spot on the foot, said “it’s vitiligo.” My eyes well up. “Oh,” I say. “Were you worried about that?” and I say yes as a tear falls. He gives me a referral to a dermatologist and doesn’t say another word. As angry as I was at my hip, gay Uptown doctor and his utter lack of bedside manner, looking back I kind of understand why he didn’t think it was the big deal I did. Vitiligo is Michael Jackson’s disease. No one ever believed he had one, they thought he was just lightening his skin to be white, but he actually suffered from this autoimmune condition where your skin gradually loses its pigment. The darker your skin the more noticeable it is because of the contrast. Vitiligo is not deadly. It’s not a symptom of anything and it doesn’t cause anything. It doesn’t hurt, unless you count vanity.

I read everything I could about vitiligo and found a dermatologist who specializes in its treatment. There’s no real cure, although there are some effective treatments. I learned that, although they don’t know what causes it, for people who get it later in life it often comes after a period of extreme stress. That I knew about.

 

I am the president of a union of close to 6,000 over 4200 of them janitors. The members of the union come from all over the world – the industry has always been sort of an Ellis Island of occupations. Our members clean all of the downtown buildings, the skyways, the airport and commercial office buildings across the metro area. I had taken that brief sabbatical from work because the previous year and a half had been brutal. Around 4,000 janitors are members of the union and on June 6, 2009, hundreds of janitors and their families were packed into our union hall for a big meeting. Our member meetings are not usually that well attended, but just two days before we had gotten word that our largest employer was being audited by Immigrations Customs Enforcement.

What happens during one of these audits is ICE collects from an employer all of the documents that employees fill out when they’re first hired. We got word that 1,256 janitors were on a “Notice of Suspect Documents” and that every Monday for six weeks 200 would be notified they were on the list and told they had until Thursday to present new documentation or be fired immediately. No due process, no time to correct honest mistakes – they didn’t even tell people what was allegedly wrong with the documentation they did present, sometime 10 to 12 years prior, when they first applied for the job.

1256 people on a list. This was the Obama administration’s supposedly softer, gentler version of immigration enforcement. They did away with the swat team raids of the Bush era and replaced them with these silent, desktop raids. We were all, of course, panicked. What we fought for when we worked to elect president Obama was quick immigration reform. We did not get that, but we did get access. Within a week I was in a meeting in Washington DC with the Chief of Staff of ICE, and for the next month I shuttled back and forth, was on constant phone calls, begging. We need more time. You can’t expect people in three days to be able to figure out what is wrong and fix it. What if people are mistakenly on the list? When we finally got the complete list it didn’t take long to find US citizens, residents on the list. But even if someone on the list was not authorized to work, if they are indeed undocumented, can they at least be given more than 48 hours to prepare?

Hundreds turned out to meetings we’d have where we had an army of volunteer attorneys trying to help find people who might have legal recourse to a work visa. At those meetings, members agreed and understood that until we fix our insane, broken immigration laws that all we could do was buy time. We knew that people who had non-union jobs in situations like this got fired on the spot. And every day of work was eight more hours on a paycheck. We got the company to back off their initial plan of 200 letters going out a week while I continued to try to get DC to say definitively they would give us more time. For six weeks we were in limbo. DC would tell us one thing, local ICE would say something different to the employer.

Six weeks the uncertainty lasted. I got a phone call from the Chief of Staff of ICE. It was brief. She asked how much time we needed. I said 90 days. She hung up. Not long after, I got a call from our employer.  They confirmed ICE had finally loosed their grip and provided the time extension.

Right after that call we scheduled another meeting attended by hundreds. I was so happy, we had done it. I had done it. I did what no one said could be done—I got us more time. At this meeting, I think I even had a smile on my face as I gave everyone the good news. But as soon as the words came out of my mouth I realized the mistake I had made. You fucking idiot. You self-involved prick. You. Fucking. Idiot. You come in here declaring we’ve staved off the execution but here is your date certain –and you expect people would cheer? That they’d be happy? Yes, everyone said they understood that until our laws are fixed all we could hope for was borrowed time. But now, you’ve given them a date. You have 90 days. In 90 days you will be fired. And you come in here with a fucking smile?

We thought – I thought – that if we had had a big public fight with the Obama administration about this raid that we would essentially be admitting that many of our members were not authorized to work and that that would accelerate the process of firing people. And so we chose silence. Members agreed, but that’s where I led. And I was wrong. Our members felt betrayed by everyone – their employer, who of course knew, the government, who also knew, and the union, who didn’t stand up to all of this hypocrisy, even if it meant people getting fired immediately. I didn’t stand up and publicly say. This is fucking wrong. This union that had had big, public campaigns to win good contracts and affordable healthcare was silent. We were invisible. And it has eaten at me ever since.

I don’t know that I can ever forgive myself for that mistake. Yes, we bought more time. And in those 90 days a couple dozen people were able to be helped by lawyers and got their papers fixed. Others at least had time to prepare. When we surveyed members, 600 said their home was in foreclosure or they feared it would be soon.   During those 90 days and after, rumors flew around. We heard some were saying that in my shuttling back and forth to DC I had actually sold everyone out. As much as those rumors still pierce my heart like a bullet, the frustration they express had an essential truth at its core. Of all the characters involved in this drama – the employer, ICE, President Obama, the union—we, the union, we are the only entity whose charge, whose reason for being, is empowering and protecting workers. And we were powerless to do anything. That we should get disproportionate blame – it may not be correct, but it is understandable.

This was not the first desktop raid we suffered. A year later, 250 more members lost the jobs. Then they started going after smaller companies. I started joking with my friends about the stress and my vitiligo, These mother fuckers are not going to stop until I am completely white.

There is a lot I love about my job. When you work in social justice and you have a victory, you take part in adding joy into the world. It’s now five years later and the raids have stopped, or paused. We’re still waiting for DC to fix our immigration laws. The vitiligo is still around, though it has not spread, and I know that the stress that I feel doing this work is nothing compared to the stress experienced by undocumented workers living in the shadows every day.

When I am in a bad place about work, I try to remember all of the joyful moments in organizing. When we work together and win healthcare and wage increases, when we fight a Big Bank and save someone’s home from foreclosure. There are many. And then I think, if only the work was more about all of those moments of joy and not all of this pain, or at least a lot less of it. I had a prolonged moment of funk centered around these thoughts.

I came out of that mental cloud reading the work of a Tibetan Buddhist, Yongey Minghur Rimpoche, author of The Joy of Living. I was especially drawn to a meditation on compassion where you visualize yourself on your in breath, taking in pain, suffering, all of the pain and suffering in the world, and on the out breath you emit life. Breathe in, pain. Emit light. Pain. Light.

I realized that in this kind of work you can’t wish for just one side of that. “If only I didn’t have to deal with all this…” The work is both. Breathe in Pain. Emit Light. And I try to remember this, especially at times when it feels just too hard to breathe.

*****

Tonight, the President will be announcing temporary relief for millions of people. I’ve been going through my head today the names and faces of former member who I know will be helped by this action, and it is overwhelming. I’m looking up old phone numbers, calling people up to invite them to a party we will be having to watch the president’s speech in Nevada where he will detail the impact of the relief the administration will provide. Yes, the Right Wing is already fighting back, talking retaliation and outrage that the President is doing the same thing that Presidents Bush and Reagan did before him.

But, tonight and tomorrow, all that stuff is just noise. We are celebrating the lessons learned of the past. We will not lead from silence any longer. We are celebrating the promise of the future. This fight is not over until we have not just temporary relief but have fixed our unjust laws. We are celebrating the lives of men, women and children who have worked through years of pain and fear to seek what all of us seek–because we all deserve to live lives of joy.

 

“Twin Cities Business” Interview

26 Nov

20131126-080209.jpg

The current issue if the Twin Cities Business is an “interview issue” where the magazine “goes one-on-one with 28 of the region’s key CEOs, public policy power players, thought leaders, and Fortune 500 execs. The result: an unprecedented collection of candid commentary on the state of Minnesota business and our broader society.” They asked me about immigration reform, SEIU, and the future of the labor movement more generally. Some excerpts below.

An academic-turned-labor-leader, Morillo represents 6,000 janitors and security officers in commercial real estate, and runs one of four SEIU locals in Minnesota. We examine the current long-term crisis in the union movement.

You and several members of Congress were recently arrested during a demonstration pushing for immigration reform legislation. What did you accomplish?

Every day, immigrants in this country are facing a crisis, and the only way we’re going to get legislation passed is for people in Washington to feel the crisis. So we have to escalate. There’s a common wisdom that, because Congress is so dysfunctional and because of the shutdown, immigration could never get done. I actually am quite hopeful. What we’re hearing from Republicans is that there will be a vote. That’s the reason of an escalation, to say, “Those of us who’ve been fighting this fight have certainly not given up.” And that’s how you make things move in Washington, by not giving up even when everyone else says something is dead.

In 2012, union members accounted for 14 percent of Minnesota workers, down from 16 percent in 2011. Have you bucked that trend?

Local 26 represents janitors and security officers in commercial office real estate. In our last contract negotiations we renegotiated for downtown security officers and added about 1,000 new members in suburban security. A year ago we had about 5,000 members, and we added 1,000 more.

How have you defied the trend?

Nationally, we are now less than 7 percent of the private industry work force, union members. When you compare that to a time in the century when 35 or 40 percent of private sector workers were in unions, that is a dramatic fall. We are in a crisis, and we think it’s extremely important for people in the labor movement to not only acknowledge we are in a crisis but act like we are in a crisis. We can’t do the same things we’ve been doing.

What we’ve done in Minnesota is to work differently with a broader set of community organizations—not unions—to put bigger demands on corporations like Target and U.S. Bank. Right now, there’s a worker center organizing retail janitors who are non-union . . . when we win that campaign, those members will be joint members of Local 26 and the worker center. What we all need to be doing in the labor movement is thinking beyond traditional collective bargaining as the only path to worker empowerment.

One of the mistakes that the union movement has made is that, as the economy changed dramatically, unions did not adapt. We’re organized along the exact same structure, the exact same kind of industrial unions and bureaucracies, everything that was established when the U.S. was an industrial power. And that is just illogical. We need to do what capitalism does, which is to adapt, to change.

Is Minnesota on the forefront of change, or are we lagging behind?

I think we’re on the forefront of that change.

[For the full interview and interviews with other Minnesota (mostly business leaders), see the full issue here.]

How have high-profile disputes—Twin Cities orchestras, American Crystal Sugar—affected the environment for organized labor in Minnesota? Is there a need to influence public perception?

I’d say yes, there definitely is. My first instinct is to try to look internally. What can we be doing differently? With, say, the orchestras, I think, “What could the union be doing differently to tell the story differently?”

What is incredibly important for us is that when we are in the newspaper for our contract negotiations, it has largely been stories of victories. It is very important for working people to have victories and to celebrate victories, and to fight on offense. That’s the key thing that our driving mission is, to not be in the paper for a defensive fight. Not that the Crystal Sugar workers or the orchestra musicians could avoid it, they were put into a defensive position, but what we try to look for is something that is or will become a victory and gives people a different sense of what the union is about. Instead of having unions seen as an obstacle to change or progress, to actually be the instigator of change and progress; on an issue like changing from night cleaning to day-shift cleaning, which saves lots of energy and money and could provide workers more family-friendly hours.

What are your largest challenges?

We work in a subcontracting industry, and we are an entirely private sector union. We also organize in very low-wage industries, and when you look at the economy, jobs that were shed during the recession were largely middle-income jobs, and the jobs that have come back in the recovery have been low-wage jobs. What we are trying to figure out is what the country as a whole needs to figure out—we cannot have millions of people working jobs that are 40 hours but have you living in abject poverty.

On Picking A Fight to Win One: My Houston Story

10 Nov

Friday night I had a bit of a bucket list kind of night.  I got to tell a story on The Moth Mainstage when they were in town at the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul.  Ever since I first started listening to The Moth podcast, I have been telling John I wanted to be on and tell my story about Houston. The account below is not how I told it on stage, when you have about 10 minutes to tell a story to the live audience.  When people ask when I knew working for social justice is what I wanted to do — I often tell this story.

In 2006, Houston Janitors made the minimum wage, $5.15 an hour

In 2006, Houston Janitors made the minimum wage, $5.15 an hour

So I am sitting, legs crossed on the street, in the middle of a busy intersection in downtown Houston, arms linked with two other guys.  The three of us are looking up the nostrils of a horse.  The policeman on the horse’s back looks down at us and barks, “You are going to be trampled.”  And then he trampled us.

The three of us were the first of our group of about 45 dispersed off the intersection we had taken over in an act of civil disobedience. We had come from all over the country  – 11 of us from Minnesota – to support the janitors of Houston, who had been on strike for months, fighting for their first union contract. Their employers had left the bargaining table and were not budging, and so the strikers escalated the fight.  Ours was one in a series of acts of civil disobedience aimed at creating a crisis for the city of Houston.

The janitors of Houston lived in crisis every day.  In 2006 they were making $5.15 an hour – the federal minimum wage, and were limited to working four hours a night.  These janitors, like the janitors here and around the country, mostly work invisibly at night, after the office workers and executives have gone home.

The janitors taking home 20 dollars a night were mostly women and they were immigrants, and they clean the offices of some of the wealthiest corporations in the country, the world.  Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell Oil Company… Halliburton.

Everyone knew the only way the strike would end was if any of these corporations said to their cleaning companies, “end this strike.”  But no one was saying that.

So we were there to create a crisis, although I would not say that those of us who volunteered to go down there really understood what that meant.  I first got a clue that afternoon when we were briefed on the action, and the organizers leading this orientation talked like they were on Mission Impossible.  We would all arrive to downtown Houston in small groups of six or so people, from different points, and all converge at the same meeting place, a Burger King at that intersection, right across the skyscraper housing one of these big oil companies. They told us to not be surprised if our white vans were followed by police helicopters, and I thought police helicopters? What the hell did I just agree to?

I was scared out of my mind, and kicking myself for it. Stop being a wuss. But I couldn’t help it.  In the union, veterans of the Justice for Janitors movement all have stories of battle scars, stories that began: “I remember that time I got punched in the face by a cop.”  Before Houston I’d just listen quietly, as my experience prior to the union consisted of teaching history and anthropology to college students. I tried my best to look like I was in control on that day, but inside I was a quivering mess.

My little group made our way to the Burger King and it eventually filled up.  I recognized some of the people but others I didn’t.  I was looking around the room wondering who was in on it and who was actually a customer.  There was this one table full of elderly white people, drinking coffee and water.  That’s a scene I’ve seen before at a Burger King or McDonald’s. Clearly they’re not with us.

What was supposed to happen was at 4:15 someone would yell GO! and we’d all run out and take over the intersection. We’d sit, legs crossed, arms linked until an organizer came and put handcuffs on us.  What actually happened is that 4:15 came and went and we couldn’t do anything because there were police everywhere. On foot, on horseback.  There was a decoy rally of striking janitors a few blocks away but they weren’t being distracted.  4:30, 4:45, 5:00.  Now I had been scared all day but at that point I didn’t think the thing was going to happen and I was pissed.  I came to Houston to get arrested. If I have to hold up a convenience store, I am getting arrested.

But suddenly, the police did all go over to the decoy rally. So we hear it, GO! From that moment on I was focused, fear was gone. We got into position, linked arms – but before we could even form a full circle and before anyone could get handcuffs on us, the police were back. And me and the two guys from New York were staring up the nostrils of that horse.  After that no-minute warning, everything was a blur.  They moved us to one side of the street and the horses charged everyone else.  An older woman from New York had her wrist broken.

I had somehow ended up in an all-Puerto Rican group.  Me, the Puerto Rican from the island and these badass Puerto Rican janitors from New York, who were pissed. While everyone else was keeping up their chanting, Workers, United, Will Never Be defeated, my group was pissed, saying  What the fuck was that? This is not what I signed up for! That group of old white people in the BK, by the way, were on the street corner, chanting El Pueblo Unido, Jamás Será Vencido.

They eventually got us all into handcuffs and a huge armored bus arrived to take us away.  By the time they got us all on and blocked off the intersection, the decoy rally had arrived.  I looked out of the window through the iron grates.  It was a beautiful night.  The sky at dusk was full of color. Hundreds of Houston janitors and activists were, chanting. There were drums. It was lively.  I was overcome because, you see, something that no one said publicly, was that the reason we had come from all over the country to take part in this was because Houston janitors had risked a lot by going on strike.  But risking arrest, was too much because risking arrest for many could meaning risking deportation.

I had all kinds of thoughts running through my head.  I thought wow, I guess it’s just going to be this hard. We had been talking in the union about going into the South. Here we were and this city was spending so much money, so many resources were being put into keeping people in poverty.

I also thought, Oh my God, my mother can never find out about this.

Houston horsesMind you, in 2006 I was a grown ass man.  But this was not the future my parents had in mind for the son who, many years before, had sent to the US for college – to  Yale University – or as my tios and tias pronounced it, Jale – which, as I’m sure you know, is a factory.  A factory that produces elites. My parents had worked hard to get themselves out of poverty.  Unlike Latin Americans crossing the border, and by an accident of history, we Puerto Ricans are born American citizens. At 21, my dad found one of the only ways out of that poverty – he joined the US Army.  He became a career serviceman.  He did two tours of duty of frontline infantry in Vietnam and almost a third – until a Congresssional investigation of his battalion uncovered that black and Latino soldiers were getting third orders to Vietnam while many white soldiers hadn’t yet gone once.

I was a good kid, a studious kid when I left to Yale. After I graduated I had a long, too long, career as a graduate student working to become a professor, perhaps at some other factory for producing elites. That’s what brought me to Minnesota in 2000 to teach at an elite college.  But two years later, the tragic and accidental death of a U.S. senator, Paul Wellstone, made me an accidental activist and confirmed for me that I had to leave academia and do something. 

I worked in politics, began working for the union in 2004 and by June of that year I was asked if I would consider leading this union of immigrant janitors and security officers and I thought are you crazy? I was teaching history, like a year ago. And by March 2005 I was elected by the board of this local to become is president and by that fall of 2006 I was leading negotiations for 4,000 janitors. A group of 11 of us took a break from negotiations to go down to Houston to do support work for a strike that did not look like it was coming to an end any time soon.

houston2And that’s how I landed in Houston city jail. By the time we were processed and got through the gauntlet of fingerprints, mug shots, removing your shoe laces, handing over my belt – I didn’t get into the holding cell until about 2 am – and I was the first of “the protestors” that made it through.  I walk into this cell and I think, oh fuck I’m going to die here. Because of course I assumed that all these guys had just come from knife fights or shootouts.  If you ever find yourself in jail in Houston – or frankly almost anywhere else – the first thing you notice at everyone in there is black or brown.  The only white people in this packed cell were protestors.  Except late at night there was a prostitution bust an a few white johns came in.  And a few DUIs a little later than that.

Soon after I got through that gauntlet this young black guy comes in.  One of the other jail mates started calling him Sideshow Bob, the Simpsons character, because he had crazy hair – but not to his face because he also had a crazy look to him.  As soon as he got in he was restless, screaming for guards. They ignored him so he took a plastic bag from the garbage can and put it over his head and yelled “I will kill myself.” And all of the guard rushed in. There was a lot of shouting at him and one of them got the bag away from him through the bars. The guards all leave, except one of them stays behind.  He was this short, muscled up, and very young white guy who I came to nickname Abu Ghraib because he was constantly telling us he was a badass who served in Iraq.  He starts yelling at Bob. “You think I’m scared of you? You think I’m scared of you? I did two tours in Iraq as a grunt. I KILL PEOPLE.”

To which Bob replies.  “I kill people too.  I’m in jail.”

Jailmates 1, Abu Ghraib Zero.

I soon realized something else about our jailmates.  Almost all of them seemed to have been through this before.  They educated me and the other protestors on what would happen.  When we’d get to talk to a lawyer, how the bond is posted.  They were not all in knife or gun fights.  It was astounding how insignificant some of the charges seemed.  A seventeen year old latino kid who looked much younger was in because he had been trespassed by the high school he had dropped out of. When he drove back there to pick up his sister who was still a student there, was trespassed and arrested. Others were in because they were walking without ID and you can be held for 48 hours without being charged.

Now we had been arrested Thursday evening and we thought we’d be out by morning.  But as I said the Houston police were pissed and so was the District Attorney.  Talking to the lawyers I learned that he had originally set bail for us at $888,888.  Each.  The Crazy Eights Bail.  For blocking traffic. This same DA had set bail for a guy who had killed his own mother at 35k. So we ended up staying longer than overnight.

So by Friday night, after 24 hours already, we were panicking because, as our jail mentors warned us, “if you don’t get out by Friday at 5, you’re not getting out until Monday morning.

But late that night, the lawyers finally figured things out, got the bail reduced and we were told they’d start processing our releases.houston3

That didn’t start until 5am.  My name was called in the first group.  Now when you’re in jail, they do body counts a lot.  In the middle of the night.  They wake everyone up off the concrete floors, have you line up and you count off as they call your name.  And the guards always pronounced by name wrong.  So when they called me that morning I hear “JAY-VIER” and I thanked God. One of the Minnesota guys I’d come with corrected the guard HA-VIER and I thought shut the fuck up. Jay-vier is out of here.

When we got out we learned how big of a deal our arrests had become.  There was a candlelight vigil outside the jail.  It led the news on every station because the police not only barricaded our intersection but blocked off several more so thousands of people were backed up in traffic and couldn’t get home for hours.

The embarrassment had finally caused the corporate elites of Houston to get together and tell their cleaning contractors, “End this strike.” They had agreed to come back to the table. Our group from Minnesota made it back Sunday night and on my way to work Monday morning I got the news that the Houston janitors and won their first union contract with guaranteed wage increases and, for the first time, health care coverage.

This line of work is sometimes very hard.  I often ask myself, “why do we have to work so hard for so little?”  But I also think back to that night – sitting handcuffed on that bus – and think about janitors who made their invisible work visible. And I think of those who disappear, invisible into our jails and prisons.  And those tall skyscrapers, how it all exists right by each other.  And I think, “I guess it’s just going to be that hard.”

And I remember something Paul Wellstone used to say: “Sometimes you have to pick a fight to win a fight.”

Back from the Dead (with thoughts on the failure to include LGBT couples in immigration reform)

22 May

I started writing this as a comment to a friend’s post on facebook, but then it got really long and then I thought, “hey, didn’t I I used to have a blog where I ranted about stuff?” So here are my thoughts about the disappointment of many that binational couples were not included in the immigration reform bill that just passed the Senate judiciary committee.

There is no explanation but a political one for the failure of the Uniting American Families Act.  There aren’t the votes for UAFA.  There are 100 senators, and not enough of them will support the provision. In the Republican House its chances are somewhere in the negative range.  That may not be a reality we like, but it is an undeniable reality.  The question the movement for Commonsense Immigration Reform was/is faced with is: Are we ok with halting the bill altogether, with sacrificing the legalization of 11 million people to make a point? We may not like the choices, but that is what they are right now. Either accept a bill without UAFA, which its proponents say will help approximately 40,000 people, or insist on it and stop any chance of legalization for 11 million people. My answer: I support UAFA but I’m not willing to sacrifice 11 million for those 40,000. Call me a sellout.  I’m sure this blogger would. She writes about yesterday’s disappointing news:

I completely and totally reject this decision due to the fact that my husband will have a permanent residency appointment in the very near future because of our heterosexual privilege.

In my world, there’s no excuse, no manner to explain away what happened yesterday. I will not simply tweet out a consolatory message, or rue the fact that sacrifices had to be made.

And those so-called immigrant activists? Those same ones who dare to tell you binational same-sex couples that, “Once the reform becomes law, we’ll come back for the you,” or say to you with earnest eyes, “Don’t worry – The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will be struck down next month.”

Those same activists who supposedly believe that, “No human being is illegal?”

I’ll gladly help you slap each and every one of those so-called immigration activists clear across the face.

In Love and Solidarity Always,

Giselle

PS And all of you supposedly pro-immigrant organizations, groups and individuals that are sending out congratulatory messages, all of you in the online and offline community who were chanting proudly after the vote at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday, I offer this to you:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”

-Martin Niemöller

We are right to fight for UAFA, and author’s blunt words come from real conviction. But support for UAFA is not the question.  Read the whole blog post and you’ll see there is a lot of passion, there is no answer to the question above.  Should the whole bill go down because UAFA is not in it?  I’m not dismissive of her passion but her need to mock and deride those who dared celebrate committee passage of the full bill, that’s a little much.  And the over-used Niemoller quote? Puh-leaze.

The fight for immigration reform began in the 80s after the last one still did not create a sane system to keep people from coming to the country and having to live in the shadows. The Uniting American Families Act is legislation was first introduced in 2000 but has had no real support until very recently. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile, it just means that there has not been the kind of movement behind of UAFA that has finally put CIR on the table.

And then there are the really annoying gay blogger/activists, like John Aravosis of americablog.com, who in a tweetrage about the withdrawal of the Leahy Amendment, had this to say:

That tells you all you need to know about some of the loudest voices on this subject right now. When Aravosis pulls out the “we’re not law-breakers” line (he’s done it before) he is reminding everyone this bill is only helping those horrible “illegals.” It’s disgusting. Worse, elsewhere he has mocked the idea that legalizing 11 million people does help gay people because many of those 11 million are gay. That’s whose leading the charge among the prominent gay politicos on calling those of us not willing to sacrifice 11 million sellouts.

Aravosis. Mean Gay.

Aravosis. Mean Gay.

The fight for marriage equality has made enormous strides in recent years. I support it and, in fact, I rearranged my life in the last two years to defeat the horrible Minnesota amendment and then pass equality. As a gay man who is a citizen of this country I must acknowledge a fact that I hope others can ponder: the cause of gay rights, especially regarding marriage, have progressed far more rapidly than any progress made for immigrants living in shadows. In fact, things have only gotten worse, dramatically worse.

Of course I support the goals of UAFA. But the political reality of vote-counting says it won’t happen and insistence on it will sink a bill that does a lot of the things we do need to have happen, including legalizing millions.  In politics sometimes the choices are stark.  In this case, I’ll take the imperfect and move on to fight another day.

[I’m taking a bit of a leave from work. After suffering through a chronic neck connection all winter, a couple weeks ago I threw out my back. “What were you doing?”, I was asked by an ER nurse. “Putting on socks. While being old.”  With my body telling me I need a rest, I’m taking a much needed long vacation.  One thing I do hope to do on that leave is, now that I have re-discovered it, is write about the world and stuff on this blog.]

Rey Romney Declara: “It Would Be Helpful to Be Latino”

17 Sep

I spend a lot of time wishing I had more time to write. And then there are times when the stuff just writes itself.

Caught on camera recently, Mitt Romney admits that, Reina Romney’s quaint overtures to La Raza notwithstanding, he has a Latino problem.  He joked recently at a fundraiser:

“My dad, as you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company. But he was born in Mexico… and had he been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot at winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico. He lived there for a number of years.”

But, seriously, el chistoso continued: “I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino.”

With Friends Like These, Mitt: Every Latina mom will tell you, “Dime con quien andas, y te diré quien eres.”

Ay, Guantecito. No seas tonto. You don’t have to be one of us.

You just have to, you know, not surround yourself with people who hate us — people like Kris Kobach, author of Arizona’s SB1070, and that state’s immigrant-hating birther hero, Joe Arpaio.

It is those associations, and your extreme policies, that has Latinos turning away from you, Rey Romney, in droves.

You have to give Guantecito this – he seems to have finally fingured out he does have a problem:  “we are having a much harder time with Hispanic voters, and if the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African American voting block has in the past, why, we’re in trouble as a party…”

Yes, you are.

¡Somos el 47%!

Of course, Latinos were only one part of the populace Guantecito showed disdain for in the video David Corn of Mother Jones released today:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”

It’s nice that we Latinos are included in some part of the Mitt Worldview.  We are all on Team Disdained! And Mitt wants to be one of us!  We have arrived!

On the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, we learn Rey Romney thought we got our slogan all wrong.  We are the 47%! We are the 47%!

Latinos have arrived.

Not quite the same ring, but I’ll go with it.

Talking about that dependent, non-tax-paying lumpen, El Rey declared: “[M]y job is is not to worry about those people.”

Right back at you, Guantecito.

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.]