In the last panel for the day before the closing keynote, the panelist discuss the efforts that have been made to make sure the voices of immigrants are being heard and policy gains are made. The panel was moderated by former AZ state senator Alfredo Gutierrez, who spoke as part of the opening keynote Thursday evening. He introduced each of the panelists and then delved into the topic.
“No one is going to give it to us because of a good heart. We have to make them give it to us”, said Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice-President of the AFL-CIO. He spoke on past marches for immigration rights and work being done in DC, trying to figure out a way to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Marisa Franco, who was also part of the Thursday keynote, spoke on ending Operation Streamline. Operation Streamline, she explained, is when groups of people who are undocumented are brought in, and as a group are prosecuted and sentenced, with only one lawyer representing them, stating quite clearly (and quite obviously) that it is a perversion of justice. She also touched on the need for people who are about these issues, people who are allies, to take greater responsibility and action to move for greater justice. “We don’t just need allies, we need champions”, she explained, people who are willing to be as brave as people who are undocumented that face fear and arrest every day of their lives.
Arturo Carmona, the executive director of Presente.org, which Senator Gutierrez described as similar to “MoveOn.org” and responsible for getting Lou Dobbs off the air, talked about the work they do framing the debate and responding to statements by candidates like Donald Trump, responding directly to candidates, which they didn’t really do in the 2008 election cycle. He called comprehensive immigration reform a “vague promise”, not a specific policy which will have real results in the lives of immigrants.
The conversation moved into talking about the dynamics between DC and organizers on the ground. How some people are better at certain things, whether policy, legislative work, or organizing is important to the movement, but an idea Marisa Franco hammered on was that to many in DC the issues don’t matter as much, aren’t as important, because they “don’t have skin in the game”, and thus has a myopic view on what’s needed for immigration reform and other issues. She also pointed out the importance of diversifying funding so that the movement can keep moving forward and build on their successes.
Erika Andiola, another participant in the Thursday keynote, was the last panelist on the panel, and spoke on the beginning of efforts to push for the DREAM Act and focusing on it because a lot of young folks organizing saw that comprehensive immigration reform wasn’t going to be possible, and how they were getting pushed to not talk about the DREAM Act by other folks and organizations. This seems have become a bigger theme on the panel, that there’s a giant disconnect between the people on the ground and the policy wonks in the Capitol community.
In terms of making concrete steps forward to strengthen the movement, the panelists went through many different topics, from using data and data mining to help people who are undocumented every step of the way, consolidating progressives in the immigrant rights movement to strengthen the sway they have in helping to set policy, and changing the conversation to stop delineating between “good” and “bad” immigrants.
We went into audience questions, where topics included driving a wedge between chambers of commerce and the right-wing, nativist candidates they fund, why organizers are focusing on the President, and not Congress, and how immigration issues from the 90s to today have been shuffled from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice, to the Department of Homeland Security. All in all, it was a great panel.
We’ll be posting live coverage of the closing keynote soon, so stay tuned!