Tuesday, July 30, 2013
The one thing lawyers cannot debate is that we love to debate. Immigration lawyers are no different as fiery discussions light up social media over immigration reform. We know we cannot get everything we want in immigration reform, so deliberation gravitates around what we tradeoff to get the coveted green card. Do we expand criminal grounds of deportability in exchange for more generous routes to citizenship? Do we agree to drones on the border for less visa backlog? The dam of tolerability has a different breaking point for each lawyer.
The debate has now culminated in infighting about whether the DREAM 9’s act of civil disobedience last week has undermined the anemic immigration proposals left on the table. Last week, the DREAM 9 crossed the US-Mexico border, knowing that they would likely be detained by immigration officials. As the DREAM 9 now languish in solitary confinement in a private detention facility in Eloy, Arizona, it turns out the DREAMers’ calculations were spot on.
Critiquing the DREAM 9’s actions, however, is antithetical to transformative progress in this country. Most lawyers have no legitimacy dictating the parameters of the immigration debate without the consent of the people that they purport to represent. If comprehensive immigration reform is in so delicate of a state that it cannot withstand a nonviolent critique in the form of civil disobedience, then perhaps the DREAM 9 have foreshadowed the end result – failure. And the lawyers are simply resuscitating what many increasingly view as a law that will ultimately oppress immigrants. Is the DREAM 9’s act of defiance a last gasp at hope? Their arrest, a struggle for a voice in the debate in which lawyers have coopted ownership? Their silence from solitary confinement cells speaks louder than their voices ever did while living exiled in Mexico. In the end, the lawyers who critique the DREAM 9 only validate the very oppression that they are fighting against – one that dehumanizes immigrants, and deems them unworthy of opinion or political power. It is time we listen to the silence from the nine cells in Eloy, Arizona.
Professor Holly Cooper of the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic has extensive litigation experience defending the rights of immigrants and is a nationally recognized expert on immigration detention issues and on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions.