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Luis A. Marentes Headshot

The #Dream9 'Publicity Stunt' to Improve the Immigration Reform Debate

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As Congress enjoys a well-deserved vacation and lobbyists of all persuasions are on high gear pushing many causes, including different approaches to immigration reform, nine DREAMers -- Claudia Amaro, Mario Félix, Adriana Gil Díaz, Luis León, Lulú Martínez, Lizbeth Mateo, María Peniche, Ceferino Santiago and Marco Saavedra -- have taken the immigration debate to a new front at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, a facility owned by Corrections Corporation of America, the self-proclaimed

private corrections management provider of choice for federal, state and local agencies since 1983... the fifth-largest corrections system in the nation, behind only the federal government and three states... hous[ing] more than 80,000 inmates in more than 60 facilities... with a total bed capacity of more than 90,000.

Dressed in caps and gowns, the nine attempted to enter the United States through the Nogales border crossing on July 22, only to be detained. Six of the nine had either been deported or forced to leave the U.S. earlier, while three of them -- Martínez, Mateo and Saavedra -- purposefully left the U.S. with the specific purpose of participating in this event.

On July 17 Lizbeth Mateo posted this video from Mexico explaining her reasons to purposefully leave the U.S.:

Marco Saavedra posted a similar video on July 18:

And on the 20th Lulú Martínez posted her own explanation:

Within a week of their return and detention, the #Dream9, as they are now known, created a strong political debate among the pro-immigration reform camp, leading David Leopold, a staunch defender of reform, to criticize them for engaging in a counterproductive "publicity stunt." They have nevertheless received much support from grassroots organizations and from social media activists. A recent article from In These Times clearly articulates the tensions brought about by these courageous activists. As the article points out:

By framing immigrant justice as a human rights issue, they challenge mainstream reform groups that selectively tout the merits of the "good" immigrants who have proven to be "deserving" through their educational achievement or patriotism. They aim to push the debate beyond the usual Beltway rhetoric of "earned citizenship" and "aspiring Americans."

After all, these young detainees are not the "model" Dream Act youth who make the headlines, the sympathetic strivers. For these rogue nine, it's not about just "earning" papers or citizenship, but the principle of belonging.

Latino Rebels for its part has been developing Storifies about the #Dream9's situation, publishing one on August 2 and another one on August 6. Particularly relevant and disturbing in their coverage has been their publication of the "Disciplinary Panel Report," through which the CCA private Eloy Detention Center condemned Lulú Martínez to 15 days of solitary confinement.

I praise the #Dream9 for their courage and perseverance. Their latest action can perhaps be considered a "publicity stunt," but I would characterize it as a productive one, part of a long tradition dating back to the Act Up public performances in the late '80s or to earlier performative activists like the Situationists. A look at the Migration Is Beautiful documentary series released in January 2013 shows that performance, transgression and civil disobedience have been part of many DREAMer activities for a long time. One might even credit their transgressions, with their now well-known slogan "no papers, no fear," as a crucial lever in pushing the immigration reform debate forward.

Some, like Susan Pai, another immigration reform advocate, have accused the #Dream9 of trying to sabotage the entire bill. I beg to differ. If I understand them correctly, they are opening a new front in a public debate. All along, Marco Rubio, a principal sponsor of the Senate's "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act" has insisted on the importance of a public debate to "improve the bill." Unfortunately, as I have pointed out elsewhere, these "improvements" have been a steady movement in favor of the military and incarceration industries that have much to benefit from public fears. The #Dream9 activists are bravely putting their bodies on the line and adding a whole new dimension to our public debate of immigration reform, raising awareness not only about the importance of family reunification, but also highlighting the inner workings of the prison lobbies that have much invested in raising our fears and making us support a punitive approach to migration reform.

This post originally appeared on http://blogs.umass.edu/marentes/.