On 15 June 2012, President Obama announced that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would take steps in order to “cease” deportations of undocumented young people that were brought to the United States by their undocumented parents from countries such as Mexico. Obama’s pronouncement would “protect” undocumented young people that arrived in the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday, are currently 31 years old or younger and have not committed a felony. Within the U.S. Latino community, these undocumented young people are referred to as “the DREAMERs,” since such undocumented persons were suppose to be the beneficiaries of the U.S. Dream Act. In the light of the legislation’s various failures to pass through the U.S. Congress, the DREAMERs courageously press citizenship claims by declaring themselves as: “undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic.”
With his recent pronouncement, Obama has been criticised from virtually every actor involved in the issue. His critics in the U.S. Congress have charged that he is “bypassing the Congress.” While this critique is accurate, Obama has constantly bypassed the U.S. Congress regarding his policy toward drone strikes, to which Congress’ inaction to enforce the War Powers Resolution, makes them complicit in what has become a very dangerous policy.
His announcement has also been criticised by conservatives as “pandering to Hispanics,” whereby Republicans refer to his pronouncement as a desperate and cynical political move in order to galvanised the Latino vote for his re-election campaign. Once again, this may be a valid point; however, all politics in the countries with representative forms of government, involve pandering to one faction or another. For example, is it possible to speculate that the change in the U.K. Border Agency’s guidelines for the issuance of Tier 4 visas to international students that now require a monthly living maintenance of £800 (an increase of £200 from the previous monthly maintenance requirement of £600) as the Tory-Lib Dem coalition’s pandering to the growing anti-immigration sentiment within the U.K? Or can one claim that the anti-pubic sector policies of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker pander to the class project envisaged by Tea Party billionaire bankrollers like the Koch Brothers? In short, there are very few, if any, political decisions that constitute a “win-win” situation for all actors.
Moreover, Obama’s pronouncement on the perceived cessation of deportations is very much consistent with the position taken by Marco Rubio, the U.S. Senator from Florida and Tea Party favourite, whose name has been touted as a possible running mate to presumptive Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. While Obama possibly out-maneuvered Romney, there is no doubt Obama is desperately attempting to regain a demographic constituency that he, over the course of his presidency, has alienated due to a record number of deportations of primarily Latinos, back to their country of origin. No matter how humane his pronouncement is, Obama has disingenuously benefited from the Republican Party’s anti-immigration discourse and policies, by challenging the more draconian aspects of these laws (for example, the racial profiling aspects of the Arizona, Georgia, Alabama and Utah state statutes),* while at the same time, deporting a record number of persons, including DREAMERs, back to their country of origin. In the words of one Atlanta DREAMER activist, the Latino community is “tired of being played.”
To that end, the DREAMERs (via their posts on social media) are skeptical of Obama’s pronouncement. They correctly argue that Obama has not actually issued an executive order ceasing deportations. In fact, irrespective of Obama’s announcement, deportations can continue. One group, the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA) have posted Facebook notices from other U.S. based undocumented youth organizations which caution that providing information to the U.S. government in order to secure work permits, could in fact, facilitate deportation proceedings.
For their part, the DREAMERs have the most to gain and certainly the most to lose in wake of Obama’s announcement. Unlike their parents who do not raise citizenship claims, but struggle for the right to live and work in [the United States], (Munk, Schierup and Delgado Wise, 2012), such undocumented youth organise and agitate for nothing short of a path to citizenship as contemplated by the U.S. Dream Act.
Several members of GUYA that I have met and spoken with, have little or no recollection of México given they were brought to Georgia when they were small children. They have grown resentful, yet passionate about their being criminalised for decisions made for them by others while they were very young; and for which they had no control over. Like radical civil rights activists of the 1960s, such as SNCC, DREAMERs have mentioned to me that their “shame” has crystallized into a resolve to seek U.S. citizenship. They feel “American” in every sense of the word other than their formal legal status.
Furthermore, lost in the discussion in the wake of Obama’s announcement, was the fact that DREAMERs engaged in direct actions of resistance to protest deportations. In the week prior to Obama’s 15 June remarks, no less than four of Obama’s campaign offices (Denver, Dearborn Michigan, Oakland and Atlanta) were occupied by DREAMER activists. In the Denver case, the undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic, staged a seven day occupation and hunger strike. The timing of these effective acts of resistance and Obama’s announcement cannot be overlooked nor dismissed.
While Obama’s perceived shift in deportations is certainly political, possibly cynical; yet, it is nonetheless a humane change in a policy which has, at best caused persistent fear in Latino communities throughout the U.S. and at worse, shattered families. With that said, the absence of courage demonstrated by Obama in not issuing an executive order to cease all deportations of eligible DREAMERs, has been met with skepticism and mistrust by the very people Obama contends he wants to aid. And to show that skepticism and mistrust by undocumented Latino youth is warranted, within eight hours of Obama’s announcement, GUYA posted a notice on its Facebook page that the local police had constructed a road block on Buford Highway, the heart of Atlanta’s Latino community, in order to stop and detain anyone driving without a valid license. A situation that exacerbates the structural violence inherent in Atlanta’s poor public transportation system ultimately underpinned by metro Atlanta’s lack of will to improve it.
While the Congress contends that Obama bypassed them, at the end of the day, it seems that the local police in the Atlanta area have bypassed the President of the United States under the guise of enforcing U.S. immigration laws. The only true courage displayed in this turn of events has been exhibited by the most vulnerable.
*On 25 June, 2012, the U. S. Supreme Court in a 5-3 decision upheld the racial profiling provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070.
Peter S. Cruttenden