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Deepak Bhargava Headshot

Community Organizers Revive Immigration Reform Again

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Today, more than 500 advocates and leaders from immigrant and faith communities gathered at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C., and heard members of Congress lay out tangible steps for moving forward with the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform. During the "Relief, Reform, Respect" immigration forum, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also announced they are meeting with President Obama tomorrow. It was an amazing reminder that even while the elite political establishment in D.C. has been engrossed with the midterm elections, the grassroots has never taken its focus off alleviating the pain felt by millions of people whose lives are adversely affected by our dysfunctional immigration system and has never stopped working to deliver a practical solution.

The result is that advocates, the grassroots and congressional leadership are all focused on a three-part strategy:

  1. Pass the DREAM Act.
  2. Introduce and begin debate on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
  3. Continue to demand administrative relief that ends the inherent authority doctrine, which allows local law enforcement to terrorize our communities and puts a stop to deportations that are separating families in record numbers.

The event itself featured a truly diverse set of speakers and attendees including Islamic faith leaders joining with evangelicals, national civil rights leaders joining immigrants with real stories of pain, and legislative champions. It was followed by a day-long series of prayer-ins and lobby visits.

While politics and a daunting national legislative agenda have thus far trumped moral and practical solutions to the immigration crisis, today's activities put an exclamation point on a long summer of organizing activities. The immigration reform movement deluged Congress with thousands of calls, faxes and emails, blocked implementation of the most objectionable parts of Arizona's new anti-immigrant statute, stalled copycat legislation in many other states and continues to register thousands of new voters.

We also faced severe challenges in the form of fear mongers telling outrageous lies about immigrants (think Governor Brewer's brazen fabrications about beheadings) and certain Republicans contorting their own humanity in attempts to appeal to the farthest fringe of their base (think talk of repealing parts of the 14th Amendment). But these developments reenergized an already empowered base of Latinos and immigrants and further alienated an American public that clearly supports a practical and comprehensive solution to the immigration issue.

For the next few weeks the immigration reform fight will focus on a crucial step toward comprehensive reform -- the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act is bipartisan legislation that gives eligible young people who were brought to the U.S. as children the opportunity to resolve their immigration status and work toward citizenship. To move from being undocumented to being a U.S. citizen, those eligible will have to pass background checks and be of good moral character, graduate from high school, and go on to complete additional requirements related to attending college or completing military service.

There is no better time to put the faces of these students at the front of the immigration reform struggle. As our opponents make every effort to demonize and dehumanize immigrants, it's important that America sees the faces of immigrants and their families who simply want to take part fully in American life. The Center for Community Change was recently honored to be part of the successful fight to prevent a student who had known no country but America from being deported to a land of which he had no memory. Yves Gomes was present at today's event and told his story. After the making of his We Are America video, photographer Sara Lewkowicz followed Yves during the anxious week in which he couldn't bear to start packing his suitcase.

It's stories like Yves' that motivate and justify our movement for change. Yves' story had a happy ending, at least temporarily, but his struggle and the struggle of thousands of others whose stories end far more tragically continue every day. Let's be clear: Tearing mothers and fathers away from their children isn't a conservative position. Separating husbands and wives is not a liberal value. Keeping communities and families united is an American value and a value of every faith tradition. Fixing a broken system that takes a terrible toll on the lives of human beings is not a Republican or Democratic idea -- it is a moral imperative for a just society.

To join the fight for change, text JUSTICE to 69866.