Monday, January 3, 2011

The DREAM shall never die

Reflections on Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the DREAM Act

By CFIR memberMark O'Brien

Proponents of the DREAM Act failed to gain the 60 votes needed for a cloture vote in the U.S. Senate in order to end a filibuster on the Bill.

This of course was a major disappointment for millions of individuals who were hoping that the DREAM Act would pass in the Congress. The prevailing view was that the DREAM Act had a low chance of successfully passing in the Senate despite a courageous victory in the House.

It may seem like this is the end for the DREAM Act at least until the 2012 elections. However, this is just the beginning. While the Legislation failed to gain the necessary votes in the Senate, the DREAM is still alive! As Senator Edward Kennedy stated at the Democratic National Convention in 2008:

The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the DREAM shall never die…

December 20th marked the 5th anniversary of H.R. 4437, otherwise known as the Sensenbrenner Bill that passed in the House. This highly punitive legislation would have made it, among other things, a felony to be in the United States undocumented. The Sensenbrenner Bill was a wake-up call for people of all races, colors and creeds to come together and unite against the hard-hearted nature of such legislation.

Almost immediately, individuals and organizations started to mobilize and an awakening began that brought together communities across the nation. People mobilized and engaged in organizing, outreach and service. Folks from all walks of life rose up to say NO to the Sensenbrenner Bill and the hostile tone that was taking shape in the United States towards immigrants.

The energy and enthusiasm was palpable as communities came together through the bond of peace. There was a tremendous amount of organizing, meeting with legislators and their staff, working on messaging, framing and advocacy. We took sharp, decisive action and did not rest or let up during the Christmas holiday break, and by the time Congress returned, the momentum took them off guard. The Sensenbrenner Bill died in the Senate.

The momentum culminated in March 2006 with rallies across the country that drew 50,000 to 150,000 people. In Denver, a March 25, 2006 rally at Civic Center Park drew an estimated 75,000 people. This was extraordinary given that organizers had met 3 days before and thought that there might be 5,000 people in attendance. But the word went out and then suddenly, when all the forces came together in a singular moment, there was an outpouring that came forth like a river. As I drove into town, streams of individuals, families and groups came from all directions towards Civic Center Park. There were people coming from everywhere and I recall telling a friend on the cell phone, who had asked how I thought the rally would go, "hold on...something is happening-something is breaking lose". This was confirmed when I got close to downtown, parked and joined the procession of people heading to the Park. The presence, power and energy of this gathering was effervescent, there was a joyfulness among the crowd. The morning gave way to a celebration of community and an inspiring presentation. No one there that day will forget, nor should forget, the beauty of the experience.

Over the past 5 years a tremendous amount of time, effort and energy has gone into Comprehensive Immigration Reform. From the McCain-Kennedy Bill to the DREAM Act, there has been an enormous amount of debate, argument, demonstration and lobbying regarding this issue. There has been many promises from politicians who have been, at best, ineffectual in providing genuine leadership on immigration reform. The economic crisis has certainly not helped this situation.

Along with other Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation, the DREAM Act was a parallel effort to provide an opportunity for children, teenagers and young adults, brought to the U.S. with their parents, an opportunity to come from the shadows and be able to work, attend school, join the military and have a path towards legal residency, and the potential to become a permanent resident and/or U.S. Citizen.

The fact that the DREAM Act failed to pass in the Congress is a great disappointment to many and will impose difficult hardships on folks who are undocumented, but it cannot be overstated that this is just the beginning of what will be a very challenging road ahead and we will need to press on toward the goal by working together and staying united in one vision, mission and purpose. We will need to work hard and sacrificially with deliberate intent on CIR and a new DREAM Act.

We need to hearken back to those who came before us and have provided an example to follow. I think of Martin Luther King and how many years he and millions labored, and still labor, for Human Rights. I think of Gandhi and the peace movement in India and how it influenced Dr. King and peace movements around the world. I think of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers movement and his efforts that began in the 1950s. I think of Dorothy Day and the many that advocated for immigrants rights in the late 19th and early 20th century. I think of my own father who worked tirelessly for immigrant rights beginning with Dorothy Day in the 1940s and with Cesar Chavez in the 1950s before the United Farm Workers existed. I think about 'the long journey' fighting against the abuse and exploitation of the Bracero Program and picketing in California during the 'Don't Eat the Grapes' strikes. These were long, hard battles that lasted many years and required extraordinary sacrifice.

The main thing is this : The experience over the past 5 years has shown how a communities can come together with a shared vision to advocate for the cause of justice and Comprehensive Immigration Reform. We will not waiver in our commitment and we will stand together in unity willing to sacrifice time and time again until we achieve our common goal. But even when we do achieve this goal we must remember the words of Senator Edward Kennedy when he said...

One of the great lessons I have learned from a life in politics is that no reform is ever truly complete. We must constantly keep moving forward, seeking ways to create that more perfect union..
We must continue and intensify our work to manifest what Martin Luther King, Jr. named "The beloved community."

In addition, I am reminded of a quote that I hears a few years back which was: "the difference between peacemaking and activism is that peacemaking is transformational". So, as we go forth, let us also be peacemakers in the pursuit of just immigration policy, because in addition to our activism; it is peacemaking that is transformational and ultimately what brings about true and lasting change.

Let us love and serve one another, encouraging each other as long as today is called today, remembering that

The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the DREAM shall never die…

Peace and Love,

Mark

1 comment:

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