Sunday, June 03, 2007

Takin' the Dreams Train

-- by Dave

On the same broadcast in which Lou Dobbs seemingly described his critics as "commies" and "fascists" and then embarked upon a muddled, half-baked defense of his reportage on immigration, Dobbs also ran a "news report" on a coming campaign to begin injecting some common sense into the immigration debate.

Of course, Dobbs and his reporter -- the execrable Casey Wian, he of the notorious "Aztlan" reportage -- portrayed it in the most negative light possible:
DOBBS: The Catholic Church, and other pro-illegal alien lobbying groups finding new ways to promote amnesty. As Casey Wian now reports, they're taking a cross-country trip by rail in order to highlight the accomplishments of illegal aliens.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They call it the Dreamers' Train. Actually, there will be four trains carrying 100 immigrants to Washington, D.C., next month. Along the way, they plan to share their stories of success after they or their parents came to the United States, in some cases illegally.

REV. GIOVANNI BIZZOTTO, DREAMS ACROSS AMERICA: The Bible reminds us you shall treat a stranger, the migrants who resides with you, no differently than the natives born among you.

WIAN: Dreams Across America participants plan to lobby members of Congress, who are likely to still be debating the issue of illegal alien amnesty when the trains arrive in the nation's capital in mid-June.

MARIA ELENA DURAZO, L.A. COUNTY LABOR FEDERATION: We are not promoting any piece of legislation. We want all legislation to reflect the dreams of these men and women.

WIAN: Some of the Dreamer stories are already on the group's web site, including an interview with California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, the child of immigrant farm workers.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney is another supporter.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: There is a tremendous degree of hypocrisy with these religious leaders who are standing up and portraying themselves as morally superior, because they are helping some illegal immigrants who are here in our society.

Well, who are they hurting by helping those illegals? No. 1, they're hurting the American people, whose jobs are being taken, but they're also hurting people who would like to come here legally and are obeying our laws and waiting to immigrate here legally.

WIAN: The Dreams across America web site also provides a link to the story of another son of immigrants, New Mexico governor and 2008 presidential candidate Bill Richardson.

However, a spokesman for Richardson's campaign says the governor is not associated with Dreams Across America.

WIAN: Perhaps a better name would be the Amnesty Train, because that's the goal of many Dreams Across America supporters. They're appearing more desperate as the so-called comprehensive immigration reform efforts stalls in Congress -- Lou.

DOBBS: So I guess we could call it the A Train. Is that right?

WIAN: Absolutely.

DOBBS: All right. Casey, thanks. Casey Wian, from Los Angeles.

I guess it is no longer a surprise that Dobbs' reportage has become a real barometer of the misinformation levels being purveyed by the nativist faction in the immigration debate.

If you go to the Dreams Across America Web site, you won't find discussions of amnesty. What you find is this:
The Dreams Across America Tour is a nationwide journey via train that educates the public to dispel myths, give real facts, and shares personal stories about the need for just and humane immigration reform in this country.

In eight days (June 13th- 20th) via ten cities, the tour will bring together one hundred diverse individuals from throughout the country referred to as Dreamers. These Dreamers will share their compelling stories and reinforce what still holds true today – no matter our backgrounds, immigrant or native born, we all cherish the values that make this country prosper. However, only by working together to address our nation's broken immigration laws, can we continue to achieve and live the American dream.

Of course, if you look at the list of the tour's supporters, it's quite clear that they are uniformly advocates for progressive and humane immigration reform, and in many cases they are supporters of what the nativists call "amnesty" -- though the details will often vary.

Probably a good gauge of the intentions of the tour's backers can be found at the Web site of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), which is a major partner in one of the tour's events. FIRM describes its agenda for immigration reform thus:
1. Provide a Path to Permanent Resident Status and Citizenship for All Members of Our Communities. Our immigration policy needs to be consistent with reality. Most immigrants are encouraged to come to the United States by economic forces they do not control. Immigrants bring prosperity to this country, yet many are kept in legal limbo. Legalization of the undocumented members of our communities would benefit both immigrants and their families and the U.S.-born, by raising the floor for all and providing all with equal labor protections.

2. Reunite Families and Reduce Immigration Backlogs. Family unity is a guiding principle in federal policy. Immigration reform will not be successful until we harmonize public policy with one of the main factors driving migration: family unity. Currently families are separated by visa waiting periods and processing delays that can last decades. Comprehensive immigration reform must strengthen the family preference system, by increasing the number of visas available both overall and within each category. In addition, the bars to re-entry must be eliminated, so that no one who is eligible for an immigrant visa is punished by being separated from their family for many years.

3. Provide Opportunities for Safe Future Migration and Maintain Worker Protections.
Any worker visa program must include provision for full labor rights (such as the right to organize and independent enforcement rights); the right to change jobs; and a path to permanent residence and citizenship. A regulated worker visa process must meet clearly defined labor market needs, and must not resemble current or historic temporary worker programs. The new system must create a legal and safe alternative for migrants, facilitate and enforce equal rights for all workers, and minimize the opportunities for abuse by unscrupulous employers and others.

4. Respect the Safety and Security of All in Immigration Law Enforcement. Immigration enforcement laws already in place are creating fear among immigrant and nonimmigrant communities alike. Ineffective and costly policies should not be expanded, but new alternatives and solutions should be sought. Fair enforcement practices are critical to rebuilding trust among immigrant communities and protecting the security of all. Any immigration law enforcement should be conducted with professionalism, accountability, and respect. Furthermore, there should be effective enforcement of laws against human trafficking, and a border strategy that emphasizes training, accountability and competency that rejects militarizing the border with Mexico. In all cases, immigration reform must respect clear boundaries between federal immigration enforcement, local law enforcement and the enforcement of labor laws.

5. Recognize Immigrants' Full Humanity and Eliminate Barriers to Full Participation. Immigrants are more than just workers. Immigrants are neighbors, family members, students, members of our society, and an essential part of the future of the United States. Our immigration policies should provide immigrants with opportunities to learn English, naturalize, lead prosperous lives, engage in cultural expression, and receive equitable access to needed services and higher education. FIRM opposes unreasonable barriers to naturalization, including excessive fees, endless and discriminatory background checks, and grinding bureaucracy.

6. Restore Fundamental Civil Rights of Immigrants. Since September 11, 2001, selective and discriminatory implementation of sweeping law enforcement policies has not only failed to make us safer from future attacks, but undermined our security while eroding fundamental civil liberties. Failure to protect these fundamental rights goes against the core values of a democracy, and, therefore, the United States. For the benefit of everyone, and not just immigrants, these basic rights must be restored and protected.

7. Protect the Rights of Refugees and Asylees. The United States has always been viewed as a safe haven for those fleeing persecution. Yet, since September 11, 2001, significantly fewer refugees have been admitted. The U.S. government has an obligation to remove barriers to admission and save the lives of thousands of people across the world fleeing for their lives. In addition, our current policies treat many asylees unequally based on their country of origin. Our country must ensure fair and equal treatment of individuals and their family members seeking asylum, and end the inhumane detention and warehousing of asylum seekers.

8. Economic Justice. America's immigration system plays an important and often under-recognized role in United States labor policy, opening doors to particular populations to serve the short and long-term needs of American industry. Under such a dynamic, immigrants can be pitted against native-born workers in a labor market under stress from general economic insecurity. We believe strongly in the solidarity of all workers, especially low wage workers. Any worker – immigrant or native born – vulnerable to exploitation threatens the standing of all workers.

9. No Criminalization. The United States has a long and revered immigrant past; however current immigration laws, which seek to criminalize future flows of immigrants and workers, undermine that history. Governments that selectively legislate certain groups of people as criminal in their behavior or appearance and limit access to government services and protections under this basis run the risk of creating abuse of authority and discrimination. Such abuse increases exponentially when factors of race, religion, national origin, and sexual orientation are involved.

10. Restore the number of refugees that enter the United States to pre 9-11 levels.

Now, just to be clear: This is in no way the official position of Dreams Across America, precisely because elucidating an agenda is not its mission. Rather, as near as I can tell, the Dreams Train is about trying to get people talking to each other like human beings. It is specifically not about promoting any piece of legislation.

Still, as a rough gauge of the sentiments riding with the train, the FIRM agenda is probably as clear as you'll get. And you can argue endlessly over the meaning of terms, but you'll notice that nowhere does FIRM advocate "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, though it does argue for the "legalization of undocumented workers," which would amount to much the same thing as far as the nativists are concerned. But note that it doesn't argue for blanket citizenship -- rather, it calls for "a clear path to citizenship.

Is it about "open borders," as other critics no doubt will claim? Not exactly; rather, it's clear that it's advocating a more sensible approach to border security, including a crackdown on human trafficking.

No, the bulk of the FIRM agenda seems fairly common-sensical, really -- though no doubt Lou Dobbs and Casey Wian would beg to differ.

Perhaps, as one of the tour organizers, Rick Jacobs (writing at HuffPo), suggests, if Lou Dobbs is against it, they're probably on the right track.

Because I firmly believe that the human element has too long taken a back seat in our national debate over immigration, I have taken a deep interest in the Dreams Train, and thanks to the kindness of Jacobs (and the help of Matt Stoller and Jane Hamsher), I will be joining the train for the entirety of the tour from Los Angeles to Chicago to Washington.

Orcinus readers, I hope, will be pleased to know that for the eight days I'm with the tour -- June 12-19 -- I'll be posting regularly along the way. No doubt I will be sitting down and interviewing a number of the 100 immigrants and getting their stories told. At other times, I'll be describing the stops and what takes place there.

I never check my independence at the door, so readers can be assured they'll be getting an unvarnished version of the tour. Nonetheless, I'll be up front in telling you that I think a tour like this, emphasizing the human dimensions of the debate, is precisely the kind of thing that is needed in the debate.

And of course, a large reason this is so has to do with the prevalence of dehumanizing rhetoric in the debate from the nativist right -- including the Lou Dobbses of the world. I'll be writing about that more in the coming week, as well as running some interviews with immigrants that I've already conducted, quite apart from this tour, as a kind of warmup.

Hope you all stick around for the ride. And oh, yes -- I'll be cross-posting at Firedoglake and the Dreams Train blog.

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