THE BLOG
08/08/2013 11:35 am ET | Updated Oct 08, 2013

Follow the Dream(ers) to Humane Immigration Reform

Change and innovation comes not from the status quo, but from disruption. It takes a disruption in our everyday lives to stop us in our tracks, make us reflect, and decide to make a change. This idea of cognitive disruption comes from Brazilian scholar, Sebastiao Ferreira. The recent wave of courageous acts of non-violence for immigrant rights proves this true-- particularly the win just this week by the "Dream Nine" immigrant youth leaders. Recently David Leopold, an immigration attorney, criticized the young leaders' actions, saying that they were interfering with efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform in Congress. In response, I say these courageous dreamers have effectively disrupted the stagnant struggle for humane immigration reform. They have reminded us that the true fight for humane immigration reform is not within the beltway, but rather out in the community.

Acts of civil disobedience and national hunger fasts have changed the terms of the immigration debate. These high stakes actions focus attention to the humanitarian crisis created as deportations, incarcerations, and criminalization of immigrant communities escalate at unprecedented rates under President Obama's administration. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)'s "Not One More" Deportation campaign has collaborated with individuals, organizations, artists, and allies to expose, confront, and overcome unjust immigration laws. This past week, national immigrant rights and labor leaders in Washington, D.C. participated in acts of civil disobedience by getting arrested while blocking traffic near the Capitol.

For dreamers, the act of "self-deportation" is not the first time they have used nonviolence to shape the immigration reform debate. In the UCLA Labor Center's 2012 publication, Undocumented and Unafraid, we chronicled the immigrant youth movement across the country that led to President Obama issuing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in June 2012. In high stakes actions, Dream activists have shown us the way to fighting for immigration reform through a nonviolent strategy of disruption. Dreamers staged high profile actions to call attention to the paradox of their exclusion from American society, such the "Trail of Dreams," a 1,500 mile journey to the nation's capital, and staging Dream graduations ceremonies. The "McCain Five" were the first Dream Act students to submit to arrest for the first time in history and the "Wilshire Nine" were Dream Act students arrested while blocking a major traffic intersection in front of the federal building in West Los Angeles. This escalated to major civil disobedience actions inside the Senate building in Washington, D.C. An example of this successful nonviolence movement, these young leaders are demonstrating once again that humane immigration reform will most likely only happen through a movement of courageous and disruptive acts of civil disobedience and nonviolence.

The Dream leaders who "self-deported" to Mexico earned major national news coverage and their courageous act sparked a wave of support on their behalf around the country. These nine young leaders engaged in a hunger strike at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, with some members of this group in solitary confinement. Their courageous act of civil disobedience resulted in winning their release and a path to humanitarian asylum in the U.S.

Last week, in solidarity, about 200 Dream leaders from the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA) and their allies staged a protest at the San Ysidro crossing of the U.S.-Mexico border to protest deportation policies that are splitting families apart. Young Mexican immigrant activists from California gathered on one side of the border while their families members still living in Mexico gathered on the other. When a courageous group of Dream leaders gathered and formed a solidarity sit-down circle in front of the San Ysidro border entry point, border patrol agents with the apparent collaboration of the San Diego Police Department and California Highway Patrol stormed in and used extreme physical force to break up and drag away the these youth. In the midst of this act of oppression and violence, the Dream leaders and their allies held steadfast to the principles of nonviolence. Their calm exposed the increasing militarization along the border and the extreme military style tactics of border patrol. The violence against the immigrant youth provided just a glimpse of the type of society that the Senate immigration bill's $75 billion border security plan would create for border communities along the United States and Mexico.

Just this week, the government granted the "Dream Nine" political asylum, setting an incredible precedent for immigration law.

Today dreamers and their allies are using nonviolence to become leaders in the fight of humane immigration reform. The stakes are high, and they are taking their fight to where it really matters most -- the communities most impacted by the harsh internal policies. While Congress continues to exhibit extreme inaction in immigration policy, these young peoples' escalating nonviolent actions, and rising stakes reflect the growing urgency in immigrant communities to survive every day.

As a professor in the Labor and Workplace Studies Minor at UCLA, over the years I have had the opportunity to have many dreamers take my class where they learned about the immigrant rights and labor movements. Today the roles are reversed. These young leaders have become my teachers and I am their student of learning. As a 50-year-old immigrant activist with more than half my lifetime in the fight for social justice, I have very seldom witnessed the same level of wisdom and knowledge that I have witnessed in these youth. I draw from one of St. Francis' teachings of the Gospel that wisdom is justified by all her children. The future of our movement for justice -- in immigrant communities and beyond-- will depend on how much we are able to integrate the energy, creativity and wisdom of these young leaders.