The Dream 9 Victory & New Developments in the Immigrant Rights Movement

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On July 22nd, the “Dream 9” – nine undocumented activists who were raised in the U.S. since childhood but were recently deported or self-deported to Mexico – attempted to re-enter the country at Nogales, AZ, in protest of U.S. immigration policies. They were arrested and put in federal custody for violation of U.S. immigration law.

While in custody, organizers with the National Youth Immigration Alliance (NIYA) carried out a national campaign to publicize the detention of the Dream 9 organizers and to build support for their immediate release into the U.S. They organized pickets, vigils, phone blasts and sit-ins to push members of Congress into pressuring the Obama administration to approve their release. Meanwhile, the nine activists organized inside the Eloy Detention Center where they were held, at times in solitary confinement, drawing public attention to the conditions inside the detention center and organizing a hunger strike 70 other detainees.

The campaign worked. Two weeks ago, the Dream 9 were released and allowed to return to their home communities in the U.S. Immigration asylum officers found that all nine had credible fear of persecution in their birth country and could therefore not be immediately removed. Their cases now go to an immigration judge who will decide whether to grant asylum, a process that could take years in court.

This direct action by the Dream 9 marks a qualitative turn in the immigrant rights movement and has sparked debate over immigration reform, strategy and tactics in the movement. What follows are several brief points about what is important about the Dream 9.

First, the Dream 9 action is stirring the debate about and moving beyond the strategy of trying to push the Democrats to the left in order to win justice for immigrants. While the national campaign that NIYA was pushing centered on contacting congress to get support, the action itself of openly crossing the border and of organizing inside Eloy went far beyond that strategy. This action is a new form of confrontation. As such, it cannot be considered outside of its development out of 10-plus years of struggle that has advanced from petitions and letter-writing, to confrontations with politicians, to sit-ins and occupations, to coming out “undocumented and unafraid,” to infiltrating detention centers and now to direct and open defiance of U.S. immigration policy at the border.

This activity is forcing a reckoning with the contradictions internal to the movement. What does tying itself to the Democratic Party achieve for the immigrant rights movement? Are the Democrats really an ally in this struggle? Is the current CIR bill a victory or a defeat for immigrants? Is direct action an irresponsible “distraction” from winning legal reforms? These questions and more are all being debated in circles around the country, with the conservative wings of the immigrant rights movement – the progressive wing of the Democrats and its corresponding non-profit industrial-complex – already calling this action a dangerous defeat for immigrants. They would much rather keep the fate of the movement tied to a CIR bill that will only serve to legalize a permanent underclass of undocumented workers and to bolster the militarization of the border and the incarceration of undocumented immigrants.

Second, although critics view this in a negative light, the Dream 9 activity will change the political conditions on the ground, raising the potential for a definitive break with the official party politics of more conservative wings of the movement. A similar shift occurred in 2006. At that time, the draconian Sensenbrenner bill was on the table in Congress, and fed up with the absence of real opposition by the Democrats, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protests, marches, strikes and walkouts. The weight of their activity wiped that bill off the table and forced capital to regroup and adapt to that show of working class power. Unfortunately, for different reasons, the unions, non-profits and other establishment groups were able to channel the people power from the streets back into “safer” outlets.

Here we are seven years later. The rightwing character of CIR today demonstrates that pushing the immigrant struggle out of the streets, schools and workplaces and back into the halls of official politics, into petitioning and get-out-the-vote efforts for this or that politician only weakens the movement and allows capital to do what it does best – devise ever more effective ways to divide and exploit workers.

Today, the infiltration of detention centers and the open defiance of the border may have a similar impact as the protests of 2006. The current CIR bill is shit, but rather than wait around and hope for something better or for permission to act from the movement “elders,” this layer of undocumented youth are devising new ways of directly resisting detention and deportation. We can look at the example of SNCC workers putting their lives on the line to resist segregation in new ways in the early 1960s [1], or the emergence of independent popular committees challenging the control of more mainstream organizations in Palestine during the First Intifada [2], to understand the explosive potential that such a shift contains.

Third and finally, as new activity breaks out and changes conditions on the ground, the leftwing of the movement is bringing about its own confrontation with the question of whether the struggle around immigration is a citizenship or human rights struggle or if it is a class struggle. Making this leap requires advancing the understanding of labor and what role does immigrant labor play today, why the attack on undocumented workers is taking its current forms, finding the connections to the attack on other workers, and making sense of the development of new forms of resistance around immigration in light of the global upsurge in struggles in Egypt, Brazil, and elsewhere.

Many undocumented Latino workers already have an acute political awareness that their place in the division of labor is directly tied to their immigration status. Immigration status is one form by which workers can be separated and more easily exploited for the needs of capital. The generation that this layer of brave undocumented youth comes from is itself the product of class struggle. They are the children of the counter-revolution by the U.S. and national ruling classes against the rebellions of workers and peasants all across Mexico, Central and South America from the 1970s-1990s. Fleeing violence and poverty, their parents and relatives migrated to the U.S. and built new communities and families here while acting as a super-exploited pool of cheap labor for U.S. capital. Therefore, this movement cannot fight for fundamental changes around immigration without dealing with the underlying labor-capital relation.

What this will look like in practice is yet to be seen. The Dream 9 are laying a foundation by waging a cross-border campaign, putting out the call to expand that and advancing other forms of confrontation. Long-term, this leap might entail developing tenant committees in apartment complexes that can organize against landlords who are extorting extra fees out of tenants because of criminal records or undocumented status. It could entail defense committees that defend against police, ICE and private security harassment of black and brown folks, or that develop networks to spread word about and undermine police checkpoints & ICE raids. Since many workplaces are stratified along racial/ethnic lines, this could also involve building networks of worker militants across skill, industry, and workplace lines to fight issues like wage theft that affect both workers with and without papers (albeit in different ways).

Notes
[1] For more info on this reference to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), see Clayborne Carson’s In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Harvard University Press, 1981).

[2] For more info on this reference to the First Intifada, check out Glenn E. Robinson’s Building a Palestinian State: The Incomplete Revolution (Indiana University Press, 1997).

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12 thoughts on “The Dream 9 Victory & New Developments in the Immigrant Rights Movement”

  1. I’ve been thinking…how does the DREAM 9’s decision to claim asylum complicate things (if at all)? I was thinking about this because I read recently that credible fear claims (which you need to establish in order to gain asylum) at the US/Mexico border are on the rise (like over twice as many since 2011), yet less than 10% of people are actually granted asylum. It’s contradictory because on the one hand, L Boogie’s comments are spot on that this is pushing the immigrant rights movement to the left, and is an act of open defiance of US immigration policy. But on the other hand, thousands of people do the same exact thing as the DREAM 9 every year, many are detained for long periods of time or indefinitely, and the large majority are simply returned to their abusive husbands, cartel-run barrios, maquiladoras, primitively accumulated land, etc. Without of flooding the legal immigration system, I am not sure how crossing, claiming credible fear, and winning asylum builds the confidence of immigrants to do something more than they are already doing. Also the fact that the DREAM 9 won asylum reinforces the good immigration/bad immigrant dichotomy that the DREAM Act is predicated upon.

    Not trying to be ultra left here (in a bad way), and I definitely don’t blame people for doing what they can to get their papers, but trying to think through the contradictions and what the DREAM 9 actions, as a political strategy, means.

    NYT asylum article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/us/report-shows-modest-rise-in-requests-for-asylum.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0

    1. Eve, you’re raising an important question. I agree that the asylum request is one complicating side of the contradiction, for the reasons you mentioned. I’m still thinking this over but want to add two thoughts.

      First, the asylum request will best be interpreted in the light of what other organizing and actions follow it, which of course we have yet to see. If the Dream 9 approach is part of a strategy of escalation, where future attempts at entry into the U.S. will be organized on a broader basis with those who either do not fit into the Dreamer status (i.e. were not raised in the U.S., have a criminal record, etc.) and/or do not qualify for asylum, then I think it could avoid perpetuating the good immigrant/bad immigrant divide. If they only attempt entries with folks who qualify on paper for asylum, then that is limiting in a political sense.

      Second, in terms of building the confidence of other immigrants to fight, I agree that the asylum request doesn’t really play that role. What is more important than the asylum request or even any future open attempts at entry that the Dream 9 may inspire is the organizing they carried out while in the detention center in AZ. I do not know the inside details but we know they were making contacts with other immigrants being detained, collecting stories to be publicized, putting immigrants in touch with outside groups/resources, and, most importantly, carrying out direct action (the hunger strike) inside the center. That the Dream 9 were locked up in solitary and released as quickly as they were is a testament to the impact they could have had or were actually having on other immigrants and the government’s desire to avoid any repeat of such organizing going forward.

  2. There’s been some discussion of this piece on facebook so I’m pasting two excerpts here. Hopefully Parcer or others involved can add here to what was started there. This comment is by a fellow organizer in Houston who does great work around immigration and my response follows:

    likeded it. the leap from dream9 to tenant committees was a bit sudden. my
    thing is why isn’t it okay to start with and focus on immigrant rights
    and the direct confrontation of unjust laws in a broad context, peeling
    back the onion to the economic issues? i mean why do we always have to
    start with the economic? on the other hand, i find that a huge problem
    with stop deportation work is the fact that so many people simply cannot
    afford to pay a lawyer, and without having access to a competent lawyer
    filing all the right paper work, some cases are really hard if not
    impossible to fight. in that sense, the unjust legal services guild that
    has formed around unjust laws is a great place, economically and
    socially, to exert some pressure as well. i tend to go by, okay, what
    are the concrete direct obstacles that this particular family has to
    face? and that’s where i tend to start. coming up with broad analysis of
    where things have to start and then forcing that analysis on the people
    you are trying to work with, a much harder place to start, though i am
    not saying, not a worthy place to go. what i’m saying is that i’m tired
    of hearing of bullshit ass lawyers who take people’s money up front, and
    then refuse to talk with them ever again. i mean, shit, some people
    don’t even know what their lawyers are doing about a case, and I just
    think, that is some fucking shit. it’s tied to the underlying greed of a
    profession that profits from a population whether or not the fucking
    laws suck. sorry, just a little pissed about seeing the same story over
    and over again. that’s economic ain’t it?

    1. And my initial response:

      To add my own two cents: Some interesting points being raised here. I want to add a couple clarifying thoughts about understanding immigration as a class issue. I do not see this as a question of separating the economic from the political/social, i.e. the current struggle around deportation or legislation is a “political struggle” that needs to be transcended by an “economic struggle” around wages, etc. I don’t tend to think of the economic and political in those ways.

      Rather, these terms are better defined by the orientation to struggle, what workers are trying to win and for whom. An economic struggle tends to orient to improving the terms for the sale of our labor as workers, while a political struggle begins to more explicitly raise questions over how society is organized and the potential for fundamentally re-organizing it.

      The political and the economic are interconnected and today, economic
      struggles often immediately raise political questions and the potential for political combat against employers and the ruling class. The point is that neither side of the struggle is more important than the other, or needs to come first before the other. Instead, it’s important to theorize the relationship between the two and to try to understand (and dare I say, foresee?) how one emerges out of the other and lays the foundation for new rounds of struggle.

      So a concrete example is in order. The current struggles around
      immigration tend to focus on changing immigration policy in the U.S. But what is immigration policy? It mediates an already existing relationship between the capitalist and the worker, or more specifically
      between the U.S.-based capitalist and the foreign-born worker. Because
      of competition and the need for profit, the capitalist fights always to
      maintain control over workers so that they can minimize the costs of
      labor (wages, benefits, etc.) as much as possible. This is fundamentally
      antagonistic to the interests of workers.

      No policy can change this relation, it can only mediate it. While fighting
      around immigration policy is important and can produce real tangible
      gains for immigrants (and U.S.-born workers), such an orientation cannot produce lasting justice for immigrant workers because of this
      underlying social relationship. This is why a development in the
      movement to seeing immigration as a class issue is key – there is a need to move beyond policy and organize a more explicit confrontation on the terrain of the class relation. I tried to brainstorm some ideas of what this could look like (i.e. tenants’ committees) but like O* I do not have all these things figured out.

      1. i like the idea of the political and economic being vertically related rather than horizontally related with one always being above or below the other. it’s the idea that one is foundational over the other that i tend to question because then the obvious response is to say, well, why not skip over all that obfuscating mess and just get right down to the economic base? maybe we should, but i still feel like these political struggles orient us towards the larger struggles that lay ahead, not to say that anything should ever be postponed. but to put it this way. i was working with a family, where a man had been employed for 16 years, now detained. his brother still worked there and asked for help from the employers. they said no because they feared retaliation from ICE, a company that employs half-undocumented folks. the employees were pissed, and the brother took a week off in protest. a small action, but the sort of thing that could lead to larger actions if people started to realize that this company that supposedly has their back and is giving them a wage, is actually not really going to have their back when they have to face the state. to me it’s all about going beyond the usual things that we think as merely political or merely economic, or even merely personal, and seeing the relations between, maybe in a new way, maybe in the same old ways. i’m thinking, for example, how do cca and geo actually make their money? in what ways can companies like that be made vulnerable to losing that money? how can massive acts of civil disobedience or other actions dig the blade further into that vulnerability so that something can actually change?

  3. Hey Gathering Forces comrades. Thanks for posting this piece. We’re considering including it in a study group on struggles around borders, criminalization and incarceration. I’m wondering if somebody could say more about the author(s) of this piece and if they’re involved with NIYA or any other formation organizing around migrant struggles. It is likely that a Dream 9 comrade will be present so it would be nice to know where this is coming from. Thanks!

    1. Hey Truck Dee,

      It’s cool to hear you’ll be using this piece in a study group. What group or organization are you with? Also, what are your thoughts on the content of this piece? I’d really like to read them.

      The author of this piece and others in Houston organize with the Southwest Defense Network (SWDN). We focus on housing, mainly in apartment complexes, where there are a large number of undocumented tenants. For some more info on our work there check out this post:

      http://unityandstruggle.org/2013/06/10/building-a-solidarity-network-in-houston/

      or check out our website for SWDN: http://swdnetwork.wordpress.com/

      As a member of the SWDN I recently took part on a panel on immigration organized with other groups in Houston like La TUYA who is affiliated with NIYA. We support each others work and hope to collaborate more in the future.

      1. I’m not Truck… But to answer one question It was used in a Common Struggle – Boston reading group… Commonstruggle.org … I was Ill and unable to attend.

  4. I found this article (posted at the bottom) that discusses the perspective of a lawyer and co-founder of a non-profit organization called Mexicanos en Exilio who deals with cases of obtaining asylum for undocumented folks. What’s interesting is that this cat, Spector, views the activity of the Dream 9 and Dream 30 activists as coming from the right:

    “They played into the right wing’s argument and narrative that Mexicans are using the asylum process frivolously just to enter the country.” Because of that, Spector labeled such activists “the Tea Party of the immigration movement.”

    He sees these folks as hurting the cause and can’t properly place this from below activity. This isn’t surprising since as we have seen in Texas, many of these non-profit leaders, many of whom are older militants, poo poo this activity because they see it as too radical, alienating, and divisive. These types want to work closely with the democratic party and don’t want to rock the boat thinking it will mean they can’t win cases. It is a difference in what they see as a victory and what militants see as a victory.

    This turn away from the democratic party from folks like La Tuya shows a leap that we are supportive of. We will not see the change we want to by appealing to democrats. Using the categories of friends and enemies categories where the democratic party falls on the side of our enemies, the focus shifts away from appealing to the morals of the ruling class and the state, to the activity of people on the ground, which is the only thing that will lead us to victory.

    http://www.texastribune.org/2013/10/29/are-some-immigration-activists-hurting-cause/?utm_source=texastribune.org&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=Tribune+Feed%3A+The+Texas+Tribune+Sections

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