NOTE: This was published in The Odyssey on Feb 8, 2016. Since I no longer write for the publication, the piece was removed from the site. I republish it here.
In the season of campaigns and candidates are on the hunt – in pursuit of funding to fuel the daily work of campaigning and for endorsements that promise authenticity and attract mass support. Highly visible public advocates whose stories are well known to coveted bases are woed by candidates and in turn use their endorsement to affect the policy platforms of the candidates who gain their stamp of approval. , Erika Andiola, Caesar Vargas, Gaby Pacheco and Astrid Silva are high-profile undocumented immigrants have aligned with Democratic primary candidates, Praeli and Silva with Hillary Clinton; Pacheco with the now-former candidate Martin O’Malley; Andiola and Vargas with Bernie Sanders. Such endorsements are a notable part of 2016 electoral politics; their ostensible aim is to show that if someone influential in the immigration movement endorses a candidate, then that candidate has a strong, equitable policy platform on immigration. Nevertheless, this phenomenon has given many activists, such as myself, considerable pause.
Now that I can articulate my thoughts on the matter, I say this: high-profile DREAMer endorsements are a useless way to effect progress in our communities or to create significant change to the immigration system.
I call these endorsements “DREAMer endorsements” (the term stems from the “Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act,” a failed piece of 2010 legislation that is now a catchall term for any legislation directed at undocumented immigrants) because they feed into the “Perfect Dreamer” stereotype that I am shocked the movement has not erased: among the millions of undocumented immigrants stand a perfect few immigrants worthy of sympathy and status by virtue of their arrival as youth, perfect GPAs, unaccented speech, and unwavering belief in the American dream. The absurd trope of the perfect Dreamer nauseates reductio when, within the select few, even fewer undocumented immigrants are acknowledged to have the political wherewithal and cachet to endorse a presidential candidate.
The great, unfortunate irony is that these “endorsements” suggest in turn a meta-endorsement. The Dreamer is not endorsing the candidate — rather, the candidate, by bringing a Dreamer on board, presents a certain kind of immigrant as the model kind of visible immigration advocate worthy of having access to the power than can change immigration laws. Thus, the candidate and the electoral system at large endorses the Dreamer, giving further weight to the dangerous “perfect Dreamer” trope. As one child of immigrants, turned philosopher, has famously stated, “congratulations; you played yourself.”
Shifting the focus slightly, we must question whether Dreamer endorsements actually help undocumented immigrant communities. It is pretty clear what the endorsement does for the candidate – packaging the candidate as caring about immigration with the backing of high-profile Dreamers to support that illusion while sparing the candidate any need to do the work to question existing systems of immigration. As for the community and the movement that purports to represent it, the endorsements do little but harm. Of course, the high-profile Dreamers cannot mobilize communities of undocumented immigrants to vote – because undocumented immigrants cannot vote. Yet the Dreamer endorsers throw their names behind candidates whose immigration platforms are incomplete at best and predatory at worst; we should question the level of continuing engagement with these issues that these candidates will have because of these endorsements, which observers assume mirror the policy demands of a large portion of the undocumented community.
The outsized influence that these high-profile Dreamers have combined with the implication that undocumented immigration affects a monolithic community makes these endorsements empty dog-and-pony shows at best and parasitic to the movement at worst. These endorsements, and the policy proposals following from them, erase the experiences of those among us who do not have the privilege of fitting into the Dreamer mold in favor of aligning with the very political establishment that has torn families apart.
As someone who is frozen out of the political process because of their status and a disgruntled member of the movement (to say nothing of my being a curmudgeon in general), I argue that the movement must always take the saccharine proclamations of silver-tongued politicians with a grain of salt (Thanks Obama). Talk of comprehensive reform has led to gridlock while even piecemeal policy at best hangs in the balance. Thus I distrust Sanders and Clinton’s platforms (here and here respectively).
Those who possess influence within the movement need to organize further, particularly amplifying the voices of Black undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ immigrants, and everyon at the intersection of various sites of oppression due to the racist, neoliberal US immigration system. Having people present themselves as voices for whole communities without conducting the necessary investigation erases whole communities under the assumption that all undocumented immigrants are counted for and speak in one voice; when that is clearly not the case.
The goal for immigration advocacy in this campaign and beyond is to hold candidates – and the system – accountable while still being a political force. Speaking from an organizer’s perspective, aligning ourselves with political establishment figures who have shown reluctance to make even piecemeal policy moves undermines the movement’s goals.
In sum, both Sanders and Clinton represent a party that has a record of destroying our communities. And it pains me to see a mainstream immigration movement much too willing to compromise at the expense of the most marginalized and politically powerless.