NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

“We have to make them give it to us”: the power of organizing to push for immigrant rights

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, which Sen­a­tor Gutier­rez described as sim­i­lar to “” 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!

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