Elias Kamal Jabbe
LOS ANGELES – Dr. Michael Olivas of the University of Houston Law Center Institute of Higher Education Law & Governance expressed his joy in reaction to the Obama administration’s decision to implement Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and his strong desire to see the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act enacted in a speech at the University of South California Doheny Memorial Library on October 4 2012 directed to children of economic immigrants throughout the United States of America. The New Mexico native and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund board member, who has spent years fighting for immigrant rights in the Texas legal system and documented this experience in books such as “No Undocumented Child Left Behind,” urged the estimated 800,000 DREAMers across the US to apply for work authorization via DACA – while they can.
“Apply for this. It will never get better than this. This group (that applies first) will be the very first group to go through (the complete naturalization process) when comprehensive immigration reform does come. You will already be known by the government: you’ll have a file and the ability to prove your residency,” said Dr. Olivas.
The need for DREAMers to embrace this opportunity as soon as possible was highlighted as a time-sensitive imperative because of the political direction that the United States could go in within the next few months after the 2012 presidential election.
“Try to apply before January 21st because I promise you that it will not be in place should Governor Romney win – he has already said so,” explained Dr. Olivas, in reference to the Republican presidential candidate’s plan to discontinue DACA as of January 2013if he wins the election.
Cause and effect
Dr. Olivas made it very clear that the harmful language used by some members of the media and other influential voices in recent years has in his opinion contributed to the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the US that fuels opposition to the DREAM Act.
“On talk radio and cable news shows in particular, there is hateful language (that is) being employed. This is a time when the American Heritage Dictionary can use the term ‘anchor baby’ without (including) any indication that it is a derogatory term. Especially when the economy is poor, we have scapegoated Mexicans – anti-immigration sentiment is in my view, anti-Mexican,” said Dr. Olivas.
The danger of this discriminatory language is its ability to incite violent acts against immigrants of various cultural backgrounds, including upstanding citizens who contribute positively to American society.
Dr. Olivas cited the story of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant and permanent resident of the United States who was killed “while looking Mexican” by a group of racist youth in New York in 2008. The xenophobia-induced violence and crime based on mistaken identities has not been limited to members of the Latino community.
“One issue with hate crimes is that the failure to differentiate is very problematic. The same (situation as Lucero) occurred with Vincent Chin. Poor Vincent Chin was a US citizen from China who was killed by automotive plant workers in Detroit in the early 1980s because of (the competitive threat they felt from) the imports of Japanese automobiles. He wasn’t even Japanese; they killed him simply because they thought he was Japanese. The perpetrators admitted to the crime, received three years of probation and never served a day in jail.”
Hasta la victoria siempre
Speaking with the conviction of a person who has been engaged in the struggle to attain legal rights for immigrants for decades, Dr. Olivas explained that he was in shock when DACA was actually implemented. The veteran lawyer admitted that he actually stated in writing that he believed the reform wouldn’t happen and he was “never more glad to be wrong” when he discovered the good news on June 15 2012. The irony that Dr. Olivas pointed out was that the growing amount of educational opportunities for DREAMers thanks to policies at the state level have even allowed them to join his field.
“I admire these kids both for their courage and their persistence. They live in constant terror that they may get picked up by the police or worse: I just don’t know how they do it. The fact that they have done so well in school under these circumstances is remarkable: these are the strivers we want in our society,” said Dr. Olivas.
“We even have undocumented lawyers in California and Florida who are about to become members of the bar: we have a DREAM Bar.”
After citing the aforementioned positive examples, Dr. Olivas and his colleagues explained that their mission wouldn’t be complete until the DREAM Act is enacted. Salvadoran American scholar Arely Zimmerman praised DACA because it created a comprehensive federal policy after years of distinct policies utilized by states, but also said it was not enough.
“We have the ability to say ‘here is work authorization’ but we don’t have the ability to take DREAMers out of their frozen status,” said Dr. Zimmerman.
The stories of DREAMers across the nation have been told by journalists such as Leslie Berenstein Rojas in Los Angeles and Mayra Cruz in Houston, home of the 2012 LATISM Conference taking place from October 25-27. Sociology professor Manuel Pastor, who directs the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII), recommended research materials he worked on with his colleagues to people who are interested in discovering more information on immigrant integration and naturalization.
Photos of this event provided courtesy of Jacqueline Agnello of the University of California Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.
Complete video footage of this event provided courtesy of Corey Clark of the University of Southern California Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Elias Kamal Jabbe is the Founding Editor of www.MulticulturalMatters.org