New York State Political Games and Disingenuous Solidarity Hurts Undocumented Immigrants

Undocumented immigrant youth came out of the shadows and organized for justice and legislative changes at a federal and state level. After the federal Dream Act failed in 2010, undocumented youth took the battle for immigrant justice back to their states. We created the New York Dream Act to challenge our state legislature to truly be the immigrant haven it portrays itself to be.

We did all the legwork to make this bill a reality. We drafted the proposal for it, we shopped around for a sponsor, and looked for support from other immigrants rights organizations. We were told we were asking for too much and that our bill was not “winnable”. Much of our work around this bill has gone unrecognized. As an immigrant women led organization, it is crucial for us to not be erased from the history of this bill and overall organizing.

Finally, on March 22, 2011 the New York Dream Act was introduced by Senator Bill Perkins. Sure, the bill wasn’t perfect. In 2011 we were still using the Dreamer Narrative to get our point across and fight to be accepted into society. Also, the original version of the New York Dream Act put age constraints that limited eligibility to only a certain group of immigrants. It was thanks to the Black Institute that we were challenged to rethink the age limitations. Much has changed since then, but much remains the same.

Fast forward to 2017 and we are still fighting for the New York Dream Act. This bill has dominated our lives and organizing efforts, not because we like to play politics, but because each year undocumented immigrants have to put their education to the side because they lack state financial support. As much as we would like to give up on the New York Dream Act, many of our members want to fight for this bill and encourage us to keep going. Though we haven’t organized as heavily around the bill as we have in the past, we still believe our state can do better by undocumented immigrants.

Now is the time to demand that our state provide more protections and rights to undocumented immigrants like: provide immigrants with licenses, make New York a sanctuary state, invest in restorative justice practices, and end broken windows arrests which lead to detention and deportation. Instead, undocumented immigrants are hurt because of political deals.

Immigrant students are now pitted against each other with the introduction of CORE: College Opportunity and Resource Expansion, a bill that wants to make tuition assistance available for “all” New Yorkers. In the fine print, undocumented students must have come before the age of 16 to qualify even though the Tuition Assistance Program doesn’t have age constraints. CORE is led by members of the Independent Democratic Conference which is also under fire for giving Republicans more power in the Senate. These IDC members are conveniently outspoken in their support of the New York Dream Act, causing confusion and division within our communities.

The campaign manager for CORE tweeted this recently:

Carlene is the Federal Immigration Campaign Organizer at the New York Immigration Coalition, made up of 200 member organizations. [Taken from Twitter]

From our years of working with mainstream immigrants rights organizations, we have experienced all types of condescending, elitist, and ageist treatment. It is obvious to us that fighting for the New York Dream Act is not their priority. There are ways to hold our state legislature accountable for the failure of the New York Dream Act without blaming the same people who would benefit from it. The same people they claim to “bring to the table” to fight for policy change. Undocumented immigrants are autonomous and we know what is best for ourselves and our communities, if only others would stop and listen rather than pretend they know our experiences.

[Taken from Twitter]

This non-apology and immediate pitch of the CORE bill shows us the NYIC still doesn’t understand what’s at stake here. At a time when we should demand that our state protect all undocumented immigrants, and set the standard for the rest of the country, allies have already given up. It is irresponsible to pitch the CORE bill as something that will offer college affordability to all students when we know age limitations will leave thousands of immigrants out. It is disingenuous for allies to portray themselves as supportive to undocumented immigrants while tossing them to the side when most convenient.

We need allies that will put their bodies on the line and uplift the organizing work led by those most impacted, not erase us and use our experiences as stepping stones into political careers. We need allies that will hold elected officials accountable especially at a time when our livelihood literally depends on it. It is exhausting to have to hold ally organizations accountable for siding with elected officials, and for throwing some of us under the bus for an easy political win, when they should already be on our side.

Yes, the New York State Senate has failed undocumented immigrants but so have many ally organizations. We have not been able to pass the New York Dream Act time and time again and this isn’t the fault of students. It is a real shame that in order to pass an already compromised bill, CORE, organizations that thrive on immigrant experiences would blame students for the shortcomings of our state government.

The state budget will be released in a couple of days and we already know that all the issues impacting us won’t be prioritized. That’s why we have to prioritize each other. Undocumented immigrants are not political tools or pieces in a game, we are real people who are impacted by the actions and words of our allies and elected officials. We know that for many people, this is a game because at the end of the day they can go back to their normal lives and continue to build their political careers. This isn’t an option for us.

Organizing and protecting each other is the only way to resist and demand justice. For a group of youth who don’t know anything about politics, we are pretty badass. ​Join us in organizing that truly centers undocumented immigrants.

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