Problems With the Leadership in the Immigrant Youth Movement

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When the DREAM Act-tax credit bundle was dropped from the budget, it was time to unite.

In response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s inaction regarding the inclusion of the NY DREAM Act in the final state budget, RSCC called for an emergency action on March 31. We asked different organizations to unite with us to denounce Cuomo and the Albany politicians for their lack of diligence to open access to TAP to the 4,500 undocumented youth who graduate from NY high schools every year.

RSCC called this emergency action because of the pressing nature of the issue which required a swift response from NY DREAM Act supporters. Cuomo, being an agent of the capitalist state, supports and strongly pushes for policies that defund public education and attack teacher’s tenure instead of those that open educational opportunities to undocumented youth. He does this without fear of accountability from the people. This is why RSCC called on all organizations to unite to show Cuomo that we don’t buy into his bourgeois politics.

There is, however, a certain opportunistic trend among some of the immigrant rights organizations that have been advocating for this bill for a long time. The New York State Youth Leadership Council (YLC) not only blatantly ignored our call to action, but the NYU DREAM Team — a DREAM Team closely associated with the YLC — took the time to write a message discouraging other organizations in NYU like the NYU Students for Justice in Palestine from taking part in this rally. In their email they wrote, “The NYUDT is a big supporter of the YLC and their work. We never want to do work that hurts theirs. RSCC has only just recently supported the idea of NYDA being in the budget while YLC has been pushing for it since November when Cuomo was setting up his plan for the budget.”

This assessment is incorrect. In the past, the RSCC has followed the YLC’s lead in their strategy to get the DREAM Act passed through the budget. We showed up to their actions, including the Undocumented Power March. We also aid them in their organizing efforts in those campuses where YLC members created and maintain DREAM Teams. However, as a revolutionary mass organization, it is our guideline to serve all the masses and not sell out on them. We want the NY DREAM Act to pass, but we don’t want this progressive reform to be used to hurt the larger sections of the people.

Back in January, when Cuomo presented his budget proposal for 2015-2016, he included the NY DREAM Act in a bundle with an education tax credit. The RSCC saw this bundle as part of Cuomo’s anti-working people politics. Because the education tax credit is a bill that would push for the privatization of public education, agreeing to have the NY DREAM Act passed in this bundle would have meant that although undocumented youth can now have access to the Tuition Assistance Program, defunding of public education would speed up. This would mean agreeing on compromising the educational future of all youth in New York so that undocumented youth can have access to TAP. This is the way Cuomo saw to pit undocumented youth (who often times have to work menial jobs to little by little be able to finance their education, and therefore are often discouraged from attending college) against the interests of the millions of youth who rely on the public education system.

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Image from the action in front of Cuomo’s office.

The YLC did not want to compromise this opportunity to pass the NY DREAM Act; therefore, they decided not to speak against the tax credit. This is how the YLC betrayed the interests of the people in hope that doing so will make the capitalist state more willing to pass this reform. But unlike the YLC, the RSCC is unwilling to sell out the interests of the large masses of people in exchange for small perks from the capitalist state. Their strategy backfired at the end since Cuomo took both the DREAM Act and tax credit out of the budget, showing once again why it is important to side with the people instead of orienting toward the schemes of politicians like Cuomo.

The YLC prides itself as the largest undocumented youth led organization in the state. They also take pride in being the first to introduce the NY DREAM Act. They see undocumented people as their own identity group, and as “experts in their own lives.” According to their logic, only undocumented people have the right to lead organizations that fight for the rights of undocumented people. They think that their condition as undocumented give them the right to speak on behalf of all the undocumented, and that non-undocumented people should have no say in the way undocumented people fight for their rights – even if their tactics, strategy, and objectives infringe on the interests of other groups. From this position, the YLC thinks no one else has the right to take leadership in this struggle, and that no other organization has the right to criticize them when they are wrong.

Like Cuomo and other politicians, they think they are beyond accountability from the wider sections of the masses. What is worse, refusing to recognize and welcome the initiative of other organizations is a betrayal to the movement they helped to create. Refusing to argue different political opinions, being unwelcoming of criticisms, and avoiding political arguments in order to avoid having to explain one’s positions does nothing but prevents the movement from advancing. When a long time undocumented YLC member – who is also a member of RSCC – spoke out against the tacit support of the YLC for the bundle, he was expelled from the meeting space. After a couple of days, he was indefinitely banned from attending any more organizing meetings in the YLC because according to the YLC, him defending his politics was making members feel “uncomfortable.” Under the guise of wanting to keep a safe space, YLC purges dissident political ideologies. This is simply not the type of leadership this movement needs.

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Rally in front of Cuomo.

The RSCC does not understand the undocumented people in the United States as an identity in the same way Blacks, Latinos, and women are identities. Being undocumented is a political condition closely linked the imperialist relationship the US has with Latin American countries such as Mexico, and semi-colonies such as the Philippines. People in these countries are often forced to leave to the U.S. in search of economic opportunities their countries under the claws of U.S. imperialism are not able to afford them. Inside the U.S. they are criminalized and persecuted so that they can serve as cheap labor in the informal economy. This allows for the super-exploitation of these immigrants which produces the ruling class larger profits. These immigrants are used in different areas of the economy such a construction, agriculture, hospitality, the food industry, and as domestic workers.

This is why the future of the immigrant rights movement is intrinsically linked to the struggle of the working masses for liberation, and the national liberation struggles in the home countries. It is the duty of immigrant rights organizers to understand this history in order to better serve the interests of the immigrant working masses. It is also the duty of youth fighting for educational rights for themselves and their peers not to be narrow minded and think of their struggle as only student-oriented, but to understand how opening the doors of education to immigrants will aid the movement in the struggle for democratic rights. Depriving the movement of anti-imperialist politics and political struggle will result in this narrow view of what the movement can be, and a movement without struggle is destined to die.

As the RSCC, we want an education system that serves the interest of the working and poor people; we want the people to be able to learn their true history so that they know how to fight for power; we want the people to have control over their education system. In addition to the tax credit, Cuomo’s education reform proposals include raising the cap on charter schools, tying teacher evaluations to standardize test performance, among others. Now that the bundle is out of the budget, we see the need to unite all forces in NY around our desire that the NY DREAM Act passes without any concessions that will hurt the people in the long run. We want a truly progressive immigrant youth movement that not only fights to secure educational access for themselves, but for access to all the working class and oppressed nationalities in the state and the country.

To the YLC comrades we urge that you reflect on this criticism, and unite with us in our desire to see education that is open to everyone. We sincerely hope for YLC to reach out to us in order to build the movement. We invite you to struggle out our differences in order to find the unity to move the immigrants rights movement forward. Refusing to work together because of these political differences, or what’s worse, deciding to ignore the criticism, is a disservice to the masses of people we fight for. Undocumented people deserve better. The people deserve better.

The state budget passed without the NY DREAM Act in it, but that should not mean we give up on fighting for the rights of undocumented youth, because serving the masses means to never stop fighting, never compromising, and definitely not selling out.

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