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Deferred Action for DREAMers a Victory for Networked Political Organizing

President Obama is speaking at this hour on his Administration’s new policy on prosecutorial discretion when it comes to “DREAMer” migrants brought to this country when they were young. This clearly tells you the political significance of today’s action.

I don’t understand the argument that this exhibits a slow slide into dictatorship, with an executive branch stymied by excessive veto points at the legislative level making end-runs and weakening our political institutions. That’s certainly happening on a number of fronts, but I don’t see how prosecutorial discretion fits with that. Any reasonable view of the situation would suggest that there’s no way to possibly deport every individual who happens to be in the country illegally. The Administration had a standing order before this announcement – one they weren’t using, by the way – to focus resources on violent criminals and repeat offenders. Nobody denies that the Department of Homeland Security has primary responsibility over this type of prosecutorial discretion. Every Administration prior to this one has practiced such discretion. This Administration, if anything, has practiced less of it, and taken their cues on deportation from what they perceive as a demand from Congress to deport 400,000 individuals a year (based on the budgeting for the various agencies who perform this work).

So using prosecutorial discretion amidst limited resources, practiced by every law enforcement agency in every locality in every state in pretty much every country on Earth, doesn’t strike me as anything resembling the road to fascism or dictatorship. It strikes me as a smart response to recognizing and dealing with those limits, and focusing enforcement where it’s needed.

One thing I think is great about this announcement is how it shows the necessary and proper deployment of political power to bring pressure to bear on allies, not just opponents. It’s true that Latino activists have waged a continuing campaign of resistance to deportation policies; and that this pressure, combined with the necessities of the election campaign, led to today’s announcement. Where I would quibble with Glenn Greenwald is in the implication that “Latinos” did this on their own. In fact, they built a strong and enduring coalition with other groups on this issue, which actually makes it a sweeter victory. In the wake of the announcement, I got statements of support from not just immigration rights advocates, but also LGBT activists, labor leaders (Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO: “The President’s actions bring much-needed security and encouragement to our nation’s youth who can finally live without fear of separation from their families and deportation to a country they barely remember”), religious groups like the Jewish organization Bend the Arc, and a host of others. The main spur to use prosecutorial discretion and deferred action was a letter from 100 law professors showing the ability to use this route.

The DREAM Act was not a lonely fight, and it suggests positive possibilities ahead for networked coalitions working together. It was a movement win.

The only hurdle to this is whether this actually takes place. As I said, the Administration had already shaped a policy to focus resources on violent criminals and repeat offenders, and subsequent evidence in the following year shows that the policy did next to nothing., one of the more militant immigration rights organizations, has a petition out reacting to this announcement that seeks verification for a follow-through of the policy.

We just heard your administration announce that people eligible for the DREAM Act will no longer be deported and will be eligible for work permits. If made real, this is a huge step in the right direction. While we would love to celebrate these words, the truth is that we’re over a million deportations beyond words, at this point. We need to see this announcement made real.

That’s why we want to show you, President Obama, and whomever else is listening, just how many of us stand with DREAMers, and how many of us will continue to fight if even one more DREAMer gets deported. We stand with DREAMers and will continue to fight anyone who stands against them and for anyone that stands with them.

This is also a positive step, because rather than trusting leaders to do the right thing, it suggests that activists will continue to put on pressure after the fact to ensure their goals get met. That was a feature of the fight over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as well, which led to its success.

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David Dayen

David Dayen