Is the New Immigration Reform a Sham?: Interview with Cuentame Leaders
Cuéntame means: Count me or tell me your story.
When I first encountered the Facebook page of Cuentame, I loved their content so much that I knew I needed to learn more about them.
It is described ‘as the official page of the ¡Latino Instigators! From tackling unjust immigration laws to exclusive features on Latino arts, music and film you will connect directly with fellow activists, artists, writers, figures and much more!’
Last week I had a chance to interview the founder and director Axel Caballero, and the media coordinator Luis Moreno on upcoming immigration reform and other issues facing the Latino community.
Emine: Could you tell us about Cuentame? When was it established, its mission and objectives, and your role in the organization?
Luis: Cuentame is a new media production team. We started around 2010 with just a Facebook page and we really wanted to focus on issues that Latinos and Latino immigrants were interested in. So we came up with a Facebook page and we started listening to what people were saying, and soon after that many of the SB 1070 laws started to pass and we decided to do a campaign called, ‘Do I Look illegal?’
That was a very successful campaign. We had billboards up in Arizona, in Utah and that is really how we started gaining a lot of traction and grew our community.
My role in the organization is; I am the new media director. I garner the online community. I keep it active and make sure our content is distributed to all our social media outlets in a timely manner.
Emine: Who are behind the campaign and the team?
Luis: We are a part of the Brave New Foundation organization. We work very close with them. Brave New Foundation focuses on specific issues such as anti-militarization, anti-mass incarceration, campaigns countering Koch Brothers, and one of our directors who is a part of Brave New Foundation, saw a need to address Latino issues with a progressive lens. That is how this was catalyzed.
Emine: Can you summarize for us what is the DREAM Act?
Luis: DREAM Act is a proposed legislation that would allow young adults, who were brought to USA as children immigrants, a passway to citizenship. Of course there are some prerequisites; you would have to finish high school. You would have to have, quote unquote “a good moral character”, and be enrolled in an institution in higher education or in the military.
Emine: Axel, where is the DREAM Act right now legislatively? Is it included in the upcoming comprehensive immigration reform? Is it a federal law or is it state by state?
Axel: Firstly, we haven’t seen a comprehensive bill. There is a plan by the by-partisan group at the Senate, as well as a Rubio proposal, a White House proposal, a House of Representative 9 point plan. So there is no concrete bill out there yet. However the talk is to have some sort of a DREAM provision or component in the final plan. We don’t know where the final law will come from.
States like California and Maryland did come up with their version of laws similar to DREAM Act, and they were not as comprehensive or inclusive, so there is a need to cover it under federal legislation.
The White House plan was leaked, that’s how we got a hold of it, and we have some idea about the plan proposed by the by-partisan group, and I can tell you, both proposals completely missed the mark. They focus and emphasize on raids and deportations, but not immigrant rights.
Emine: So you are not very happy with any of the versions?
Axel: No, because it does not go far enough. Of course we need to see the actual bills first so that we can see what they cover. Right now, the bills we know about really put the politicians’ agendas first, as opposed to rights of immigrants. And we have a problem with that, because this is about people, not politics. This is about individuals. This is about families being separated. It is about students who are getting prosecuted and deported. It is about exploited workers, and they are not getting protected.
That’s what immigration is about. We are getting completely the opposite, where the focus is on enforcement mechanisms which we already have in place. Obama Administration deported the most immigrants in the last few decades, if not more. And it is not only Obama Administration, the administration before that and the one before that. What has been the idea of immigration in this country has not worked.
The reason we are at an impasse right now is because all the policies focus on enforcement and deportation, focus on raids, focus on more drones at the border, more military and more just throwing money where there is no money, to increase what they call ‘border security’ to a border that is more secure than ever before.
It does not make sense that this is the main focus of immigration reform. Before introducing any immigration bills, politicians really need to sit down and think about what people really want and what the real solutions are as oppose to patchworking.
Emine: According to the Beyond Bars Campaign report, in 2011 there were about 425,000 immigrants detained while fighting deportation orders or trying to get asylum, and over half of them were placed in private prisons. Is there a special mention and solution to this problem in the talked reform, and what are your organization’s solutions for it?
Axel: Whenever there is a social problem, there are folks trying to make money out of it. That’s what happened with GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation. It is close to $5 Billion a year industry, and we have seen the repercussions of it where immigrants being detained sometimes for just not having a driver license at traffic stop. They are detained indefinitely, and every night they spend behind bars, it costs tax payers between $100 and $200 and that money goes to line the pockets of a big CEO in one of these companies. That’s a problem.
And no solutions are being proposed for this problem in any of the bills. What we are saying is that, there are alternatives to detention. There are programs being implemented with high records of success. A blanket approach to detaining any and all undocumented people is not the way to go. It does not work. It is costly, and there are alternatives. Meanwhile we only hear talks on security, drones, deportations, raids and further enforcement.
Emine: If the new bill has a path to citizenship component, will these people who are detained be eligible to apply for it?
Axel: When the lawmakers talk about path to citizenship, who are they talking about? The way the bills are written, only about 2 or 3 million immigrants will be covered, when we have many more who will be immediately disqualified due to detainment or re-entry which is considered a felony. We have close to 11 million undocumented folks in this country. First thing they need to do is to put a moratorium on all deportations, right now. Second step is really to look at the cases, look at the individuals, and offer more realistic and comprehensive solutions.
Emine: So, if these detainees are not eligible to apply for citizenship, what will happen to them? Will they be deported?
Axel: Most likely. Because the deportation issues are not properly addressed in these proposed bills, imprisoning of these people and deportations are going to continue. Right now is the perfect time for us to understand the root of our immigration problems, and we need to consider and put first the rights of individuals.
That’s where it needs to center and should be the foundation of the bill that would strengthen and reform the system. What the politicians are doing, once again, is pandering to extremist anti-immigrant groups, pandering to nativist groups, like CIS, like FAIR, which have driven this debate too many years now without any real solutions.
Emine: Yes, these anti-immigrant groups are trying to portray all immigrants as criminals. The real problem is even when an immigrant moves to USA via legal channels, the steps that need to be taken afterwards to get work permit or legal status is extremely cumbersome, expensive, confusing and disorganized. The system to legal immigration is broken.
Axel: Yes, the problematic way we approach the immigration is, the law basically says ‘if you cross the border, by default you are a criminal’. It is not a criminal issue, it is a civil issue. The conversation should move to why are these folks are coming over to USA in the first place? What are the actual reasons for immigration? Time to time, immigrants who are trying to do the right thing and hire an attorney are defrauded by their attorneys. Nobody is addressing that issue. The system is so cumbersome and so criminalize that the portrayal of an immigrant as a criminal is becoming a real problem.
Emine: I know when immigrant parents have children in USA, or may be now through the DREAM Act, these children are able to become citizens, but parents and other siblings who do not have their paperwork are deported, causing a massive problem of broken families. What are some of the solutions your organization offer to prevent this or keep the families together?
Axel: This is again another topic which takes us to my point about immigration reform must be focusing on people and must provide basic human dignity. Keeping families together and not arbitrarily deporting people would be the right approach.
Help Separated Families Act is a legislation that was introduced last year and will be re-introduced again in the upcoming sessions, co-sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass from California’s 37th congressional district. The law would make it far more difficult to terminate parental rights solely because of immigration status.
In her February 11 op-ed to LA Times ,she wrote “according to the Applied Research Center’s report ‘Shattered Families,’ at least 5,000 children of immigrants live in U.S. foster care because their parents were detained or deported. If the current trends hold, the center estimates, 15,000 more children over the next five years will be ripped away from their mothers and fathers as a result of federal immigration enforcement actions.”
Emine: How can we combat xenophobia?
Axel: We have a series on this called “If you don’t they will”…Most importing thing is to speak out. There is no question about that the reason why xenophobia increases, and why hate groups got a hold of the immigration debate is because they have spoken out their opinions loudly. They are not quiet at all. They are well financed and organized, and they have no shame in taking on the airways.
There are large cable networks like Fox News that are glad to give a platform to these people and groups to reach millions of people. They are offering a megaphone to these hate groups to put forward this particular image of immigrants that is far from the truth.
So we need to speak up, and strongly. And tell the truth about how our immigrants contribute to our society and create a factual and positive image about them.
We have media training for high school students to produce their own videos about their lives as immigrants, and documentaries on their positive experiences relating to immigrants. But we need to do more. We need to really engage our youth and encourage them to speak out.
Emine: Thank you so much for your time.