Friday, April 25, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

In praise of the DREAM 9

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SAN DIEGO — There was a tweet that said it all. CIRiously@AreUCIRious noted the arrival of: “That awkward moment when Ruben Navarrette is more supportive of #dream9 than some liberal advocates.”

Exactly right.

I have been critical of the movement that professes to represent DREAMers, those undocumented young people who attend college or join the military and thus might have been eligible for legal status under the DREAM Act if the bill hadn’t died in the Senate in 2010. Too often, these young people – who think they’re special because they’re being given an accommodation that older immigrants don’t get – are just as self-entitled and narcissistic as their U.S.-born counterparts.

Yet on that day, I had praised the DREAM 9. This is a group of undocumented immigrants who, on July 22, donned graduation caps and gowns, linked arms and bravely crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to re-enter the only country they’ve ever known – the United States. They were promptly apprehended by U.S. immigration officials, and spent 17 days in a federal immigration detention facility in Eloy, Ariz.

The nine activists – Claudia Amaro, Adriana Gil Diaz, Luis Leon-Lopez, Maria Peniche-Vargas, Ceferino Santiago, Lulu Martinez-Valdez, Mario Felix Garcia, Marco Saavedra and Lizbeth Mateo Jimenez – became the new rock stars of the immigration movement. Martinez-Valdez and Peniche-Vargas became something larger: martyrs. They were in solitary confinement for raising a ruckus in the dining hall by yelling “Freedom!”

What did we expect? President Barack Obama has assured us that DREAMers are Americans in nearly every way. Don’t Americans yell when their freedom is taken away? Besides, assuming Obama was sincere – which is a stretch when the topic is immigration – what were these “Americans” doing locked up in an immigration jail to begin with?

For that matter, how did they find themselves in Mexico in the first place? Some of them went voluntarily, but some had been deported. How did that happen? Obama has repeatedly said that his administration is not deporting DREAMers, instead focusing on serious and violent criminals.

Tell that to the DREAMers who have been deported.

Counseled by immigration attorneys, the nine sought asylum. They were found to have “credible fear” of persecution in their home countries, and so asylum hearings were scheduled.

Last week, pending those hearings, they were released to family members in the United States.

This will go down in the books as a major victory for the DREAMer movement, one that exposed a huge rift on the left between those who like to talk about supporting immigrants and those who actually do it – even when it’s inconvenient.

In 17 days, these nine activists turned the immigration debate upside down by embarrassing the Obama administration, and by splitting immigration reformers between those who supported them and those who considered them an unfortunate distraction.

Some liberal immigrant advocates, it turned out, aren’t so liberal after all – if it means challenging a Democratic president. They’re much better at hammering Republicans. They hung the DREAM 9 out to dry, and tried to discredit them. Now the detractors have huevos rancheros on their faces.

Case in point: David Leopold, an Ohio-based immigration lawyer and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. In his public comments on immigration, Leopold has been much more critical of Republicans than Democrats. He called the DREAM 9 protest a “publicity stunt that doesn’t do anything to move the ball forward in terms of immigration reform.”

He predicted that the DREAMers would not qualify for asylum, and demanded to know, “What was the point?” of forcing a confrontation with the Obama administration.

Seriously? What was the point of the Freedom Rides, or the Birmingham protests, or the sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C.? The point is always the same: to draw attention to what you consider an unjust law, policy or situation in the hopes of correcting the injustice.

Everyone gets an opinion, yet it matters what you do and who you represent. If you practice immigration law, and you callously dismiss a protest by undocumented immigrants simply to protect one of the most anti-immigrant administrations in U.S. history, you should try another line of work.

At one point, Leopold said: “When you walk outside the United States, that’s the end of the ballgame.”

Guess what? It’s a whole new ballgame.

Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

Ruben Navarrette

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