THE BLOG

Eliseo Medina Is No Champion of Immigration Reform -- But He Could Be

Jun 04, 2014 | Updated Aug 04, 2014

As we approach June, millions of children from around the country are taking out their scissors, glue-sticks, and color paper ready to make crafty creations for Father's Day. Not all will be joyful, however, as some will be without their father, many of whom have been deported or in immigration detention.

Instead of protecting the families that live under the fear of deportation, last week high officials at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) sought to protect the Obama administration by urging a delay in the Department of Homeland Security's review to reform deportation policies. Behind the influential union, Eliseo Medina, former executive vice president of SEIU, played a key role in the decision.

It was not long ago that I, with immense respect, watched Mr. Eliseo, the energetic labor activist, who had fought along Cesar Chavez, fight for families like mine.  

When discussing immigration issues, Mr. Medina use to speak with passion that family unity was paramount. I believed in him then. But most recently his words have lost credibility.

A victory for our community must be defined beyond excuses and political talking points. "They're looking at the President to order administrative action, which we support by the way, but not to replace immigration reform. It would not be as expansive as immigration reform would be," said Mr. Medina.  

I no longer hear the same fighting spirit from Mr. Medina.

Mr. Medina and others have failed to take into account that Latinos are disproportionally suffering under our current system of record deportations. For many of us who have the administrative relief of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the difference in our lives is night and day, allowing us to take a full role in society. 

For the parents and workers who are still living in fear of being deported, temporary relief can make all the difference in the world. Just ask Ardani Rosales, who has only seen his children from behind the gates of a detention center. 

Where is the Eliseo that challenged the status quo by holding pray-ins at Chicago supermarkets over the conditions for laborers who picked grapes, or the leader who urged the AFL-CIO, despite their (unsubstantiated) concern that immigrants take workers' jobs, to adopt the position of legal status for undocumented immigrants as a tenet of its platform? We need that Eliseo Medina. 

No one disputes that a legislative solution is preferable to something temporary. However, when a legislative solution is pursued at any cost while being blind to the crisis of family separation caused from deportations, it is clear politics is driving the strategy.

Thousands of Dreamers no longer fear they'll be thrown into detention for years if they get pulled over for a minor traffic ticket -- doesn't the rest of our community deserve that as well without having to suffer tens of thousands of additional deportations waiting for their advocates to get onboard?

Undocumented immigrants, youth and parents alike, have chained themselves to stop buses on their way to deporting parents, and others have infiltrated detention facilities to expose the abusive conditions there. Just as Mr. Medina's voice matters, so does ours. 

Passing legislation is important. Keeping families together, however, is priority number one. Though Mr. Medina has said he was retiring to "focus [his] full energy on passing commonsense immigration reform," the direction that he and SEIU have taken recently indicates a serious flaw in his strategy that many individuals and organizations fall into: trading rhetoric for access.

While doing Fast 4 Families, Mr. Medina was able to meet with Obama, and SEIU was brought closer to the Administration: in Washington, access to power is everything for organizers, and organizations will often bend over backwards, even changing their rhetoric and going against their own community, to keep this access. This alliance will result giving political cover for about 97,000 deportations, while Congress continues its years-long streak of failing to address our broken immigration system.  What for? To blame Republicans? The country needs no additional reminder Republicans are killing immigration reform (and they will be held accountable at the polls). 

We can still support the President without adopting their talking points.

How does Mr. Medina and others expect to pass broad, comprehensive legislation when Steve "Cantaloupe Calves" King (R-IA) has been better able to pass anti-immigrant amendments through the House than Speaker Boehner, and the Majority Leader Eric Cantor is still sending out inflammatory anti-immigration mailers bragging about blocking "amnesty" for "illegal aliens"; the House has no viable immigration bill to even debate, and the Senate's has already been outright rejected by the House.

This is a new era of advocacy because we are no longer the DREAMers, the "cute" and fresh face youth, that were shoved before the cameras to make a case (and yes, I'm admitting I am not that 20 year old young buck anymore). We are now the doers, the shakers. Despite our disposition to confront authority and allies, however, we still hold unqualified respect for work that Mr. Medina and others have done. Fracture in any movement is natural, division is not, and this is what covering those in power causes.   

Jorge Ramos recently said "Journalists in the U.S. are very cozy with power, very close to those in power.  I think as journalists we have to keep our distance from power." "We are not asking the tough questions," he added later. While referring to journalists, the same principles hold true for advocates, including Mr. Medina. We must keep our distance to those in power because it is only then can we keep our perspective and priorities in check. 

Victory should not be access, nor recognition. Victory should be immediately keeping our families safe and together. We know Mr. Medina and others share this sentiment. Most importantly, it is a victory we can all own. Mr. Medina has an opportunity to truly become a champion of immigration reform if he and others join their community to call for immediate deportation relief that will keep millions of families together, perhaps in time for Fathers' Day.