Who Are the Dreamers?



The dreamers have taken their place in the struggle for legalization of the undocumented. They are a unique part of the population caught in the turmoil created by the domination of the continent of the Americas through the global economy and the long history of the Monroe Doctrine, the century old doctrine that the U.S. could intervene in any country on the continent if it served the interest of the United States and its corporations.

Like all empires, the U.S. imported cheap labor from the nations it dominated. In the context of modern economics, there was no longer the need to capture workers and bring them here in chains. The dependent economies of Central America and Mexico could not provide jobs for their own populations. For over a century, workers were allowed to cross the border without papers to fill the needs of U.S. companies for cheap labor, of U.S. agribusiness for farm labor, of the growing service sector in restaurants and hotels – and for domestic workers for the wealthy. The undocumented worker, without rights, without protection, without recourse to the courts, was a perfect worker for these needs.

The expansion of so-called “Free Trade” agreements allowed U.S. agribusiness to dump their production at costs with which domestic farmers in Mexico and Central America could not compete. With the passage of NAFTA in 1990, nearly 5 million agricultural workers and small farmers in Mexico were put out of work. This is almost the exact number that migrated and were allowed to enter the U.S. without papers during the 1990’s. The complex fiscal moves that decimated the Mexican economy, taking over banks and bringing about the devaluation of the peso, added to the crisis – and the flow of undocumented workers.

As Elvira Arellano once said, “We did not come here for the American Dream; we came here because of what the American nightmare did to our countries.”

The undocumented worker, while perfectly filling the needs of the U.S. corporate economy – and contributing at the same time to the beleaguered social security fund and other tax revenues – also had a “surge effect” on the demographic change that was sweeping the country. The impressive increase in the Latin American population had become the largest single grouping in the nation. It became a political imperative – for many Democrats as well as Republicans – to insure that the undocumented workers they had brought to the U.S. did not achieve citizenship – and the vote. While the white population had enjoyed its occasional visits to Mexican restaurants, it now felt threatened by a cultue and a language it did not understand.

The undocumented workers of the nineties did not come and return because there were no jobs to return to in their decimated economies. Increased border enforcement also made it more difficult to return and then come back to find work. They stayed, married and formed families. Five million U.S. citizen children were born of these families – and the number still increases every year. And then there were “the dreamers”, those who had come with their parents before the age of fifteen, some even as infants.

The dreamers were often indistinguishable from U.S. born young people in their mastery of the English language, their accomplishment in school and their integration into the culture. Some among the democrats believed that the dreamers could be legalized and added to their political base. At the same time this “concession” would be used to substitute for legalization of the 12 million undocumented, many of whom had U.S. citizen spouses and children. In short, the dreamers and”the dream act” would be used as a foil against comprehensive immigration reform.

The Dream Act movement came replete with a readymade mythology. “All we want is the American Dream, the chance to succeed in the land of opportunity.” Their desire to come out of the shadows became a testimony to the superiority of the U.S. system of government and its free market economy, a superiority that had been created, after all, by Europeans, by Caucasians, by WHITE people!

The Dream Act campaign also required the dreamers to denounce their own parents as “criminals” and to support their deportation. The Dreamers were being coerced into becoming the defense of the nation against the Latin American challenge to injustice and forced dependency.

Some young people went along with the campaign, dazzled by opportunities and fame. Others chose to remain in the shadows, especially those “undesirables’”, victims of the massive criminalization machine in the U.S., excluded from the limelight or the opportunities of the dream act.

That is the point at which this movie takes place. The organization Familia Latina Unidahad been organized by Elvira Arellano and Emma Lozano to defend the mixed status families, undocumented parents with U.S. citizen children or spouses. The separation of families had become the face of the undocumented, particularly during the year long sanctuary of Elvira and her U.S. citizen son Saul, which gained international coverage. Although sympathetic to the cause of the dreamers, Familia Latina Unida saw the danger the “Dream Act Substitution” held for the movement. They also saw the intense psychological terrorism with which these young people were being hit, demanding that they separate themselves from their families, from their culture and from their history.

It was then that Familia Latina Unida organized “La Fuerza Juventud” which joined the dreamers with the U.S. citizen sons and daughters of undocumented parents in the demand for legalization for all. They were one million dreamers and five million U.S. citizen sons and daughters of the undocumented: Six million strong! They shared a life in the shadows with all the everyday acts of discrimination which that included – and the fear of coming home to parents that had been disappeared from their lives.

In the face of a politically paralyzed congress, the Fuerza and Familia Latina Unida began the campaign to get the President to use his executive authority to stop the deportations. With Gutierrez as their champion they rallied and mobilized, first winning a policy of prosecutorial discretion to set aside some deportations of those with U.S. citizen children, and then, on the eve of Obama’s second Presidential election, the process known as “DACA”, through which dreamers could apply for and receive deferments and work permits.

In defiance of those who had hoped to use the dreamers as a blockade against legalization of the 12 million, the new DACA recipients continued in the struggle with the Fuerza Juventud for legalization for all. They joined in the demand for the President to extend “DACA for all”. They were joined in turn by other Latino and African American youth with whom they had grown up, bound together in one generation.

They also joined in a new demand. Elvira Arellano’s dramatic challenge to her 20 year bar from reentry at the border and her miraculous parole back into the country – because of popular support – brought to light the situation of those parents who had been deported. They became immediate targets for the criminal organizations in Mexico and Central America for extortion, kidnapping and murder since it was perceived that they had family in the U.S. who would pay for their lives. These criminal organizations, created by the massive market for illegal drugs in the U.S., the overproduction of guns by U.S. companies and the devastated economies of their countries, had turned on the deportees. To the demand on President Obama for “DACA para Todos” was added the demand for “Emergency Parole for the Separated”.

The dreamers had turned back to their families, their history – and their struggle. In a nation in which the family was falling apart, the presence of 12 million faithful people fighting to keep their families together was an offer of redemption, a challenge to the pride, arrogance and individualism that had corrupted a nation and devastated a continent.

This film depicts the new reality of a generation in struggle. They were not dreaming the American Dream anymore. Nor were they advertising themselves as victims, begging for a chance at the American dream. They were telling this nation it must take responsibility for the system of undocumented labor from which it had drawn great profits. They were wide awake and the tip of the spear of the people of Latin America in their centuries long quest for survival and self-determination, a new dream that the arc of history could be bent towards justice – if the people would struggle.

The film’s release comes as Familia Latina Unida and La fuerZa Juventud organize weekly Promise Watch protests in front of ICE. They are “building a moral mountain” on which the President must stand to keep his promise that he will use his executive authority if the Republican controlled Congress does not act by July 4th. Ironically, the offering of DACA to the dreamers is the proof that the President has the power to offer the same deferments to their parents and the parents of U.S. citizen children.

The Fuerza would also begin to launch an impressive campaign to secure health care for the undocumented who were excluded from Obamacare – but that is the subject of Sergio Perez’ next film. They would also begin to build a bridge to African American youth, the victims, along with Latino youth, of the most massive campaign of criminalization in the history of any country, the descendents of the cheap labor brought to the continent of the Americas from Africa. Together, they would represent the future transformation of the nation and perhaps the salvation of the continent. That too is the subject of a future film.

No, they are not dreaming anymore. The youth are a part of a new generation that is not the problem – they are the solution!

While many contributed to this film, the principal camera work and editing was done by Sergio Perez, a true son of the pueblo. He was at every march, every meeting and he traveled with Congressman Gutierrez to events across the country. Sergio gives special credit to his wife Miriam Perez, the first organizer of La FuerZa Juventud. Miriam herself was a dreamer, brought here by undocumented parents, deported, separated from her husband and U.S. citizen child at a young age. She worked to return legally to this country and made it through both high school and then college on a basketball scholarship. She continues to lead the organization of the Fuerza in its effort to close “the 20 year death gap” which the undocumented suffer because of lack of access to health care.

Miriam and Sergio also represent a personal victory: a unified family in the faith and in the struggle, with a son and a daughter who are a part of the solution!



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