Since the launch of the #BringThemHome campaign, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, especially Rep. Cuellar and Rep. Gutierrez have stuck to one talking point: the families of the #Dream30 are being manipulated by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.
We have always found this analysis to be horribly off and, at its core, very dehumanizing. Rep. Gutierrez wants YOU to believe that if a “‘Mexican” finds his or her way to his Capitol office to ask for something, then he or she must be being manipulated. The only place a “Mexican” must know is in the back of someone’s kitchen or office, doing back-breaking work. We find Rep. Gutierrez’s statements to be absolutely dis-empowering and a disservice to the real power of the undocumented community.
As the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, we are the only national network that is led entirely by undocumented youth. The decisions as to what we work on and the direction in which we go are completely in line with the needs of the undocumented community. That is the reason why we have already, purposefully infiltrated several detention centers and have had members willingly return to Mexico in an effort to bring home other exiled Dreamers. As NIYA, we ultimately lay our faith in our own community, and believe that an empowered community is more powerful than other organizations at accomplishing its goals.
Given Rep. Gutierrez’s recent posturing, it is all the more evident to us that to those like him, an empowered community that dares to make an ask of him is a very dangerous thing. In the role that Mr. Gutierrez has carved out for the “Mexican,” they are only expected to get involved in politics when he is on one of his many national church tours. Their only role is to fill his pews, provide tears for the cameras so that he, as the “Moses of the Latinos” can once again “tell us” how bad deportations are. But once they begin forming their own political opinions and demanding more than just the scraps from the table, can only mean they are being manipulated.
This is not the way we work at the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, and if Rep. Gutierrez thinks that opens us up to attacks, then we welcome them.
In response to the shameful personal attacks by Rep. Gutierrez: Since the #Dream9 actions, many of the undocumented organizers we work with have been under attack by lone, fringe activists upset that we have dared to demand that deported family members be allowed to come home. This fringe group has gone as far as sending personal messages to reporters claiming we are associated with Hamas. It is sad to see that, when presented with the option of respecting #Dream30 families, Rep. Gutierrez has instead chosen to align with fringe groups in attacking undocumented youth at the forefront of this fight.
1. “Productively kill CIR”: Comprehensive immigration reform has been dead since the beginning of this session. We are one of few groups who never hitched onto the foundation-driven wagon of “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” CIR never stood a chance of passing and just pushing for it for the heck of it while real solutions could be reached is not the way we organize.
One of our members, through his personal Facebook, made a comment about “productively killing CIR.” We ought to think beyond it. We need to move past the concept of a bill that will never happen so that we can begin to pass real, meaningful legislation. The only accomplishment the CIR lobby such as Rep. Gutierrez can truly take credit for is the nearly 2 million deportations.
After more than two-years of pushing to “kill” CIR it seems that finally Rep. Gutierrez himself has caved to the reality: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/01/luiz-gutierrez-immigration-reform_n_4192798.html? “Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a leading proponent of comprehensive immigration reform in the House, said Thursday in a radio interview that the GOP preference for a piecemeal approach is likely to win out.”
How can he demand our belief in something in which he no longer believes?
Immigration reform is not the only lens through which we should see the fight for immigrant rights. We have families that can’t wait for Congress. We have families that are living in fear now. We are ready to help them fight for themselves; Gutierrez only waits for others to join his.
2. ”Racist Sentiments”: Rep. Gutierrez needs to understand the concept of racism before taking on the task of labeling who is the racist in this immigration complex. Rep. Gutierrez quoted one of our members as saying:“…My point is if you aren’t undocumented and living in a different country separated from your family, then it isn’t your place to say what is too much and what is too little. You have no agency to speak. You don’t know what it is like to be deported, to be forced to leave. It isn’t your space to judge whether someone thinks its worth it to come back or not.” As the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, we wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments. Our role in this movement is purely to empower other undocumented people to see the power they have. It is a shame that Rep. Gutierrez would attack us as being racist for simply believing that, in a struggle for the rights of undocumented people, undocumented people should be at the forefront.
3. ”Broken Ties with NIYA & DreamActivist”: We hate to burst another bubble: we haven’t had a working relationship with the office of Rep. Gutierrez since well before September of 2012. The kind of relationship we had with his office has been one where his Chicago staff will only meet with families at a local Dunkin’ Donuts. For the #Dream9, the only reason Rep. Gutierrez made a floor speech for Lulu Martinez was because her mother, along with three organizers slept overnight in his Chicago offices, refused to leave until he did something. In New York, Marco’s mother chased the member down from ‘immigration event to immigration event’ badgering him until he caved. We have never had a working relationship with Rep. Gutierrez. As the National Immigrant Youth Alliance we don’t measure power in relationships with members of Congress; we see power in the members of our own community, those that Rep. Gutierrez says he represents. We use that power to hold politicians accountable.
Rep. Gutierrez’s shameful attacks are nothing new. Last year an article in the National Journal labeled us as a “Rogue Activist Network,” with a warning to offices on Capitol hill not to mistake other Dreamer organizations for us. http://www.dreamactivist.org/rogue-activist-network-of-dreamers-rattle-members-over-immigration/ “We take no prisoners,” said Juan Escalante, who runs communications for Dream Activist when he is not at his regular job at an ice-cream shop.
If Gutierrez plans to turn away families that come to him, that is on his conscience. It only reveals how weak of a “champion” he is. We will not abandon them, because they are like us.
Our champions are out there fighting. They are tired of living in fear; they may even be in deportation proceedings. But they are like us, who one day decided to stand up and ask others to join them. We will find them, we will fight alongside them, and together, we will win.