07/29/2014 08:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Boycott the White House: The Pathway to Citizenship Begins With Self-Representation


This week, grassroots leaders from the immigrant rights movement went to several D.C. organizations with a simple request: Stop negotiating with the White House on behalf of directly impacted immigrant communities.

Convening in front of the White House this week, immigrant leaders demanded that all organizations respect the established picket line and abstain from meetings with the White House until true advocates -- those impacted by immigration policy -- are at the table.

The organizations targeted included the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Center for American Progress and the National Immigration Forum -- all of whom are prominent organizations who have been in talks with the White House for years on crafting immigration policy.

They all have something else in common: No one in the leadership of these organizations would carry the direct benefit or burden of U.S. immigration policy.

What's wrong with this picture?

First, these organizations are not directly impacted by immigration policies, which makes them weak, and questionable advocates for the community that they purport to represent.

Second, history has taught us that people directly impacted are best suited to advocate on their behalf. The civil rights movement in the U.S. was not led by white people. The women's suffrage movement was not led by men. None of the people currently meeting with the President on behalf of the immigrant community are actually directly impacted by immigration laws. It's time for immigrants to lead our own movement and be at the negotiating table for decisions that directly impact our lives. After all, if we want to win, shouldn't we be fielding the best team?

Third, time and time again, these immigration reform organizations have stood against the interests of undocumented immigrants in order to preserve their invite to the White House holiday party. They've opposed a standalone DREAM Act in favor of a comprehensive bill. They have opposed an end to draconian immigration legislation such as Secure Communities. And they even stood against administrative relief for Dreamers. These are not people who should have any power to negotiate on behalf of immigrants because they do not represent anyone but themselves.

Finally, much has been written about the reasons behind the failure of comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. Blame has been assigned to many quarters, including House Republicans. However, we cannot win if we aren't even at the table to negotiate about our own lives. A non-controversial pathway to citizenship begins with active participation in the political process. It begins by recognizing that undocumented immigrants and immigrant families are more than just background stories. It begins by giving immigrants the respect that we deserve in crafting our own present and future.

It begins by inviting us to the White House to represent ourselves.