It Is Time to Be Defiant for the Immigrant Rights Movement

The midterm election was indeed catastrophic for the Democratic Party and the Obama administration. As numerous polling sources predicted, the Democratic Party lost its control of the Senate and the Republican Party gained even more seats in the House of Representatives.

When President Obama announced his plan to delay executive action on immigration, one of his justifications was to save the Senate. Nonetheless, the results of the midterm elections prove that his administration clearly miscalculated the political apparatus. He has run out of excuses for delaying administrative relief, and his inaction exemplifies his blatant abandonment of the immigrant community.

Based on the disastrous election results, it is just a matter of time before the Obama administration announces its new plans to shift the national discussion on the catastrophic midterm election. His administration now has to show the American public that he still can accomplish policies even after this huge defeat. The administration’s new plan for immigration will be certainly part of this effort.

In that regard, the immigrant rights movement has the upper hand advantage to lay out its plan while preparing for the upcoming administrative relief. It is true that it will be up to President Obama to determine the scale of the administrative relief. We can’t predict when the announcement will be made. Additionally, Obama’s hollow words and spineless standing for immigrant communities won’t guarantee relief for all 11.5 million undocumented immigrants. But there are certain steps we can take to prepare ourselves instead of just idly waiting for the news to arrive.

1. Identify key groups at local level: Once administrative relief is announced, it will paralyze immigrant rights organizations’ workload. It will be wise for immigrant rights groups to identify key groups such as local immigrant rights organizations, faith groups or student groups within local reach to support each other. Also, groups can identify key locations in advance, to serve community members who will need assistance.

2. Build a re-energized base: When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) was announced, many groups missed their chance to build a stronger base due to the newness of the program. Though providing services is crucial, it is also crucial to identify and organize community members to build a stronger, more sustainable movement. Most undocumented immigrants are hesitant to reveal their status due to fear of deportation and negative judgments. Administrative relief will be a golden opportunity for undocumented immigrants to come out of their shadows and be relieved of the fear of being deported. Also, immigrant youth groups can use this opportunity to train current members to recruit and organize new members.

3. Build new alliances: When the new administrative relief is finally announced, there will be a need for support from community members who are willing to help such as compassionate allies or other civil rights groups. We know there are compassionate community members who are always willing to help others. But, they do not have opportunities to gather together for the same cause because the many social movements are fragmented. The immigrant rights movement can use this opportunity to build new alliances while building a stronger community. During community education forums, organizers should explain why a more inclusive administrative relief is critical for immigrant communities.

4. Construct a new, powerful narrative based on fairness and equity: If the Obama administration is selectively carving out a small portion of millions of people waiting for reform for political gain, the immigrant rights movement must construct a powerful counter-narrative to demand more just and inclusive relief. It is estimated that there are 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the US And yet, politicians and special interest groups are imposing artificial standards to divide the immigrant rights movement based on “border security,” “deserving immigrants,” and “DREAMer” narratives. Instead of the narrative dictated by those categories, immigrant rights groups must develop their own narratives based on fairness and equity to be more inclusive. The National Day Labor Organizing Network’s Blue Ribbon Commission already produced a good report that can be used as an example.

5. Focus on President Obama’s deportation legacy to shape debates: The Obama Administration is now officially entering the lame duck stage. Even “loyal” supporters will start to turn their back on him if he continues to fail our families and our communities. 2016 Presidential hopefuls from the Democratic Party will attempt to differentiate themselves from Obama in order to appeal to immigrant communities. The immigrant rights movement can emphasize Obama’s legacy of record-breaking deportations and his failure to deliver on his promises for immigrant communities to make greater demands for justice. The Immigrant rights movement must demand clear and cohesive answers from those candidates to make them accountable for their words.

The newly-elected Congress will be even more dysfunctional than the current one. The immigrant rights movement must directly focus on President Obama’s executive options and demand bolder, more inclusive relief. As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” It is time for the immigrant rights movement to regroup and to make greater demands for our community.