The proposed “Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform” reflects recognition on the part of the Democratic and Republican parties of the growing strength of the immigrant rights movement and the Latina/o communities. If we can recognize that strength, we can win much more than what is being offered now.
The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary’s starting point is that everyone who works here, lives here, goes to school here or otherwise contributes to this society is a citizen and should have full citizenship and rights in the United States. We, as the Coalition, can’t endorse the proposal as it is now because too much of it is based on chauvinism and racism and it doesn’t guarantee a pathway to citizenship for the majority of undocumented people.
We can shape the final bill if we mobilize and fight for our demands. A march on Washington has been called for April 10 to support the reform. BAMN is organizing a contingent to demand full citizenship rights for all and assert that we won’t be satisfied until we win the freedom, dignity and equality we deserve.
The University of Michigan can and must play a decisive role in this debate. The best way for the University to influence the national debate and the final immigration reform bill is to lead by example. Since 2003, when the University had the courage to defend its affirmative action programs to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, our campus has been viewed nationally as the champion of black, Latina/o and other minority and poor students’ rights. If our University fails to lead by example in this fight, the University will send the false message that our side is weakest, when in fact we are strong.
The main explanation offered by University President Mary Sue Coleman for not granting in-state tuition and creating Dream Scholarship programs for undocumented students is that the University may be sued if it acts before the federal law is changed. First, 26 states already allow in-state undocumented students to pay in-state tuition prices. Hundreds of public and private universities have also established Dream Scholarships. The attitude of Western Michigan University, where undocumented students already pay in-state tuition, is that it would be much harder for politicians to overturn their popular existing policies than to simply bring the law inline with the existing practices. BAMN is asking the University to join Western and other universities in taking a stand now and establishing a fait accompli, rather than allowing the right wing to make gains at our expense.
The Republican Party has been forced to change their position on immigration because they understand losing the Latina/o vote is more detrimental to their existence than the risk of alienating their far-right, anti-immigrant supporters. The liberal University of Michigan, known for its defense of affirmative action, commitment to diversity, and academic freedom, is allowing that same far-right wing to determine its policies by the mere specter of a lawsuit. The University is self-imposing the kind of paralysis Martin Luther King Jr. described as the legacy left by McCarthyism through the 1960s, in which “fear persisted through succeeding years and social reform remained inhibited and defensive. A blanket of conformity and intimidation conditioned young and old to exalt mediocrity and convention.” If the University continues on this treacherous path, it will become a segregated backwater, with a lot of posh buildings but devoid of critical thought.
In contrast to the fear and pessimism of the University, the optimistic young leaders of the immigrant rights movement are already propelling our whole society in the direction of freedom and equality, breaking down the divisions of national boundaries and realizing humanity’s vast potential.
Our greatest danger is not recognizing our own independent power. We can’t let the Democratic Party and electoral politics absorb this movement. The most important leaders of the walkouts and marches in 2006 were either too young to vote, or were undocumented and couldn’t vote. The U.S. Senate’s defeat of the anti-immigrant bill H.R. 4437 was just the appetizer that made us hungry for more. It showed that we can win so much more by taking the power into our own hands than by leaving it in the hands of the politicians, school administrators, etc. Whether or not we succeed in getting this administration to act, our student body, with its reputation as path-breakers, must throw itself into this fight.
Join us on the April 10 march on Washington; march today, march tomorrow and keep on marching until we win.
Dillon Kim-Sanchez is an LSA freshman and Kate Stenvig is a University alum.