Magon: The Dreamer Chronicles, Part 1

 

Alma and her sisters in bakersfield
Alma Torres, far left, and her sisters are involved in the current push for comprehensive immigration reform. Photo: JESUS E. VALENZUELA-FELIX

 

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of three reports on the DREAMer movement

 

The Diary of Joaquín Magón Entry 27: The Dreamer Chronicles, Part 1

 

It was 2010 and the Immigration movement was at a crossroad— continue advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, or support the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, legislation introduced earlier that year by Senator Durbin (D-IL) which would have benefited undocumented youth exclusively, which is the most common version known today (there was a version introduced in 2001 but that, for reasons I’m sure all of you know, failed in a wave of xenophobia and patriotism). Neither was achieved.

In the span of the three years, we saw students work with a conviction. A perpetual defiance going viral through the media, cap-and-gown-wearing youth arrested across in the street shouting Si Se Puede, forsaking the use of massive marches and focusing strictly on media spectacles that caught the sympathy necessary to ensure that students would have a place in the hearts of constituents of even the most xenophobic districts. The Immigration movement had seldom witnessed such a spectacle much less why the generational gap so wide, parents were not getting arrested; their children, however, where.

Parents saw America as a new identity; But Dreamers came at a young age and the American identity continues to be the only identity they know; they attended same school systems as U.S. born children, learning the same patriotic U.S. history. Then one day they learned that the system denied them and that sense of belonging was threatened. This movement is a movement to retake that sense of belonging.

DREAMers are everywhere. You went to school with them; they live invisibly, you can’t know who is a DREAMer and who isn’t unless they trust you enough to speak about the immense sense of frustration that comes with having something to hide. But, then again, that’s all undocumented immigrants – farm workers, domestic workers, gardeners, fast food workers, all share that same sense of fear of being discovered, caught, and deported.

 

CHIRLA

Enter the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). Formed after the passage of IRCA, CHIRLA has been one of the leading organizations in the fight for a path to citizenship in recent years.

In 2001 CHIRLA created Wise Up!, a youth-led organization where high school students could organize to make going to college for undocumented youth more accessible. To this day undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition, which can cost twice as much, if not more. Through their organizing efforts California Assembly Bill 540 came into existence giving any student, regardless of immigration status, that graduated from a California high school the right to pay in-state tuition given they met these and other criteria. From WiseUp! The CA Dream  Network was born.

Diana Colín, 25, a Community Organizer for CHIRLA joined in 2008. “While the whole country and the youth movement were working to get the federal DREAM ACT, the CA DREAM Network was working on immigration reform for families… CHIRLA isn’t only working for students. It’s for families.”

In a very real sense every person, every immigrant, documented or undocumented is an embodiment of a comprehensive package. As Colín points out, “Just because you’re a college student doesn’t mean you’re not a brother or sister or parent; you can be a family member even though you’re a student.”

 

An Organizer: Diana Colín

Like all large movements there are unseen players somewhere fighting for something that will benefit or harm us. At times we walk a day without knowing that there is something being negotiated in Capitol Hill that’ll have a profound effect on our lives, and there are times when we realize we can make a change and chose to join a movement.

In March of 2006 I attended a march that brought hundreds of thousands of people to rally through the cold, dark, paved, smog-infested streets of a Los Angeles empty of cars and filled with bodies walking with signs united and demanding to not be seen as criminals, but to be treated as equals, to be legalized, and to be able to keep more than just their dignity. Within that Los Angeles crowd Colín was also present.

“[In organizing] I think there are Ones, Twos, and Threes,” says Colín sharing a bit of knowledge she picked in CHIRLA, “One means you’re an organizer; Two means you go to meetings; and Three means you’re just a body. In 2006 I was a Three, I was a body. I was in high school in LA. March 25 march in LA, that was my first action ever; it was huge.”

The constant pressure that the Immigration Reform Movement placed on the Obama administration paid off when, after occupying several Obama campaign offices, the President announced, on June 15, 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order – this in plain campaign season.

 

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

It’s been over a year since DACA (a two-year work permit for those that came before the age of 16 and before June 15, 2007, among other qualifications [insert link to DACA info]) was announced. With an employment authorization card one can get a social security number, get help to go to school, and get a driver’s license. The fear of driving and being pulled over, having your car impounded, and potentially being deported are eliminated…temporarily.

“We have a lot of people that have driver licenses,” says Colín who has seen the impacts of DACA first hand with her students, “we have a lot of students that are able to work after college graduation …they’re confident to go in and apply to a job that they’re qualified for. I think that was a big problem before DACA.”

Colín adds another positive consequence: “I also think that DACA made a lot of students active in the movement. [Some of] the most active members and volunteers came out of DACA. They didn’t know that here was a movement going on until DACA and now they want to be part of it.”

“I started getting involved last year around this time when DACA was announced,” says Alma Torres, 23, a member of the UFW Foundation who has been involved in the current push for comprehensive immigration reform. Within weeks of receiving her DACA approval she joined the 100 UFW Foundation and UFW members in April for a week of lobbying and actions Washington, D.C. She participated in a massive march outside of the Capitol where organizations from across the United States joined in an effort that would eventually help pass S. 744, the Senate immigration bill with a path to citizenship which has been stalled by the House of Representatives.

Like every movement in existence there are the big figures that we all remember and there are the rest of us mobilizing from the ground up. It’s easy to get lost in the figures, critiquing the figures, wondering if the figures know what they’re doing. But this article is not about them. It’s about the rest of the folks that organize around the issues and push forward a movement that will most likely never remember their name. The following two stories have extensive quotes so as to capture as much of the story in their own words as possible.

 

Jesús E. Valenzuela Félix, a reporter from Coachella living in Salinas and working for the United Farm Workers Foundation, contributes regularly to Coachella Unincorporated and New America Media.

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