Undocumented People Must Be at Negotiation Table to Achieve Substantive Relief

For over a year now undocumented and grassroots immigrant rights organizers have been leading the call for President Obama to take unilateral action against deportations. It started with a simple request: while Congress debated immigration reform, the President had to place a moratorium on deportations. As months passed with no signs of traction for humane immigration legislation, we stepped up our efforts, and took our call to the next level: after two million deportations, the President not only had a moral obligation to stop deportations, but he also needed to expand the administrative Deferred Action program that allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth to live without fear of deportation and work outside the shadows.

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Although our demands were just, backed by legal precedent, and entirely justified after years of sustained attacks on our community, one of the biggest obstacles we faced came from the very D.C. based immigration advocates who take pride in calling the president Deporter-in-Chief now that we made it politically safe for them to do so. In fact, it was just a few months ago that we were chastised by D.C. advocates for, in their view, helping Republicans by holding President Obama accountable, and ruining their chance to score a win in Congress regardless of the detrimental consequences proposed immigration legislation meant for our community. The fact is that our vision was and continues to be bigger than the cheap politics played by out of touch Beltway advocates that often behave as a branch of the Democratic Party, instead of true allies to the undocumented community.

With this clear history of unwillingness to lead by taking politically risky positions, and of siding with the political interests over working class immigrant communities, I call on America’s Voice, the National Council of la Raza, the National Immigration Forum, the Center for American Progress, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and all those other advocates who were unwilling to take a stand against deportations when it was most critical for them to do so, to step aside and boycott all further White House meetings until President Obama sits down with and negotiates with the undocumented immigrant day laborers, trans and queer organizers, parents, and youth who brought the proposal of Administrative Relief to the public consciousness when everyone said we should be quiet.

Based on their silence while undocumented working class people protested the President’s visits and shut down ICE detention centers, it is clear that Administrative Relief was never something D.C. advocates had a true interest in. It is this early silence when it was risky to challenge the President that makes me doubtful they now have the courage to translate their demand of citizenship for 11 million into a demand of Administrative Relief for all 11 Million undocumented people in this country.

The urgency at the top is not to stop the deportations of working class immigrants just trying to get by—the urgency at the top is to win something, big or small, so that they can return to their accustomed role of Democratic Party surrogates as soon as possible.

From a historical perspective, the strongest advocates for social justice have been the people that could benefit or be excluded from policy changes. This is as true today in the fight for immigrant rights as it was in decades past, but there is a great irony in the fact that a group of allies claiming to want to bring undocumented people out of the shadows by winning citizenship refuse to step aside and make space for undocumented people to negotiate for themselves.

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Hairo Cortes immigrated to the US from the Mexican state of Guerrero with his brother and mother in August of 2000. He is member of the Orange County Dream Team, a member organization of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. Follow him @HCortes96.

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