Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change, FIRM’s parent organization, has taken to the Center’s blog today, to discuss the ICE raid in Bellingham, Washington.
Last week, I had the honor of representing CCC at a cocktail party for progressive leaders at the White House with the President and First Lady. Honestly, I was pretty excited. I even bought a new tie. I had a chance to talk to the President about immigration reform, and got very encouraging responses about changing the way immigration enforcement happens and about prospects for immigration reform this year.
I was then taken aback when I learned this week about an immigration raid in Bellingham, WA that resulted in 25 immigrants being shackled and detained. The call from Marissa Graciosa, who leads our immigration work at CCC, came in close to 10 pm, just as the President was wrapping up his brilliant address to the Congress and the country. Working with our allies at One America in Washington state who are fiercely leading the response on the ground, grassroots groups around the country that are part of the FIRM network, the National Immigration Forum, America’s Voice, the National Council of La Raza and many others we sprung into action.
We called everyone we know at the White House and asked what the hell was going on and pressed specifically for a public response within 24 hours clarifying that the Administration does in fact intend to shift its approach on enforcement. We reached out to the press and the Hill which also began to ask hard questions. Hundreds of calls went into the White House. We criticized the Administration publicly, for the first time, literally a week after the cocktail party!
The result? DHS announced an investigation of the Bellingham raid within 24 hours –and Secretary Napolitano told Congress she didn’t know the raid was happening and that the Administration was looking to take enforcement in a different direction –away from workplace raids to focusing on unscrupulous employers. Now, that is change we can believe in.
What lessons might we draw from this whole experience? First, we are not agents of the Obama Administration – or any other politician. Our highest commitment as progressives is to the most vulnerable people in our society, and being progressive means nothing at all if it doesn’t mean standing up for and with them. Second, we shouldn’t expect to get change that we don’t help to make happen. To paraphrase Frederick Douglas, there is not progress without agitation. Third, if we take the view that the Administration is potentially an ally – rather than reflexively assuming bad intent — and we are clear and specific about what we want to see happen, we can in fact make real progress by working together. I am heartened by what this Administration has gotten done for low-income people in an incredibly short period of time through the recovery bill and SCHIP legislation – and the speed of their response to our concerns about this tragic raid further confirms their sincere commitment to change.
I am also heartened that the President is leading a national conversation on shared responsibility and shared sacrifice – two critical elements of the community values that are at the center of all the work to which we community organizers are passionately committed.
So, maybe cocktails and criticism – in the context of a respectful and real relationship that grows and develops over time — can go together and deliver results.
Deepak Bhargava is Executive Director of the Center for Community Change