Updated 07:55 AM EDT, Sun, Apr 22, 2018

Immigration Reform News 2014: DREAMers, Longtime Activists Split Over the Urgency of Deportation vs. Citizenship

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Although a number of victories in the fight for immigration reform were achieved last year, an overhaul of comprehensive legislation to fix the nation's broken immigration system has yet to be passed. However, as advocates remain vigilant in the fight for reform in 2014, a divide among immigrant rights activists on the approach to achieving reform could potentially split the movement.

In an open letter released last Thursday, DREAMers, a group of young undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children, are calling for a new plan of action for reform that primarily focuses on stopping mass deportations, rather than urging Congress to pass a bill with a pathway to citizenship.

The letter argues that a "citizenship or nothing" attitude towards reform is no longer viable and that activists should instead concentrate on practical measures that will save undocumented workers from the threat of deportation.

"As undocumented advocates, we do want citizenship rights. We believe that this is our country, and our family's home. We do want to be able to vote and voice our opinions. We cannot, however, wait for that to happen while our families are being persecuted. Walking away with nothing is not an option for us; "citizenship-or-nothing" is not an option," the letter reads.

"We can't ask our communities to wait for 'citizenship' while we see our mothers, our fathers and our children being taken from our homes by immigration. We can't wait while we see our families being taken into detention centers for months and even years while our children are being traumatized," it continues.

The letter states that DREAMers are calling for a cohesive plan that would "Focus on a practical legislative solution for immediate relief for families, even if it doesn't include a special path to citizenship."

On the other hand, Eliseo Medina, a longtime champion for immigrant rights who garnered national attention after launching a hunger strike on Capitol Hill last year, has remained steadfast about pushing for a bill that would provide the 11.7 million immigrants who currently live in the country illegally with path to citizenship.

In response to the open letter, Medina, veteran activists and Democratic lawmakers pushed back against the DREAMers' call to sacrifice citizenship in the short-term in order to obtain immediate deportation relief. Medina argued that it is imperative for immigration proposals to include citizenship guarantees and that deflecting away from this goal is the wrong move. 

"One thing I know is unless you fight for it, you are never going to get it," Medina told BuzzFeed.

Democrats and older activists also pointed out that it is necessary to wait and see what proposals Republicans will release this year before taking an effort to re-strategize and risk splitting their cause.

"We can't afford to be divided," added Medina. "At end of the day I don't think anyone disagrees that we need to be first-class citizens. Now the question is how do you get there? What is the process for getting there? Not should you get there. The conversation with Republicans is just beginning."

Jose Patino, the founder of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, said he appreciates what respected advocates like Frank Sharry and Medina have done but ultimately, undocumented families are in dire need.

"We respect Eliseo Medina a lot, but we don't need 'citizenship or nothing,' what we need is deportation relief," he said, according to BuzzFeed. "When I ask my mom, my friends, they say they want to be able to be here, want to be able to work, have a driver's license to go to work and to be able to travel and see family. They say they don't need citizenship right now."

Patino added that the strategy of DREAMers has been doubted before but their plans have proven to be effective being that the original push for the DREAM Act led to the deferred action for childhood arrivals program which liberated many of them from the fear of imminent deportation.

"We as dreamers knew what was best for us, people who are undocumented know what's best," he said. "We're not saying we don't appreciate the work the Eliseo Medina's and the Frank Sharry's are doing."

Nevertheless, DREAMers also have numbers on their side. While creating a pathway to citizenship is an underpinning in reform efforts, two recent surveys from the Pew Research Center reveal that Hispanic and Asian-Americans are more concerned about addressing the threat of deportation. 

According to the poll, 55 percent of Hispanics said that allowing immigrants to live and work in the U.S. without the fear of being deported is more important than creating a pathway to citizenship for those immigrants; 49 percent of Asian-Americans agreed. However, an overwhelming majority of both groups, 89 percent of Hispanics and 72 percent of Asian-Americans, are still in favor of a pathway to citizenship.

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