NEW HAVEN — It has been a good year for young immigrants living in the country without legal papers, the ones who call themselves Dreamers.Their protests and pressure helped push President Obama to offer many of them reprieves from deportation. So far about 310,000 youths have emerged from the shadows to apply, with numbers rising rapidly.Door-knocking campaigns led by those immigrants, who could not vote, mobilized many Latinos who could, based in no small part on the popularity of the reprieve program. After Latinos rewarded Mr. Obama with 71 percent of their votes, the president said one of the first items on his agenda next year would be a bill to legalize 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, which would offer a path to citizenship for young people.Behind the political momentum, administration officials and advocates say, is an extensive and surprisingly adroit movement of youthful immigrants. Because of their illegal status, however, they have often been more influential than they have been visible. In the past two years, they pursued their goal of legal recognition through a calibrated strategy of quiet negotiations, public “coming-out” events where youths declared their status, and escalating street protests.Now, movement leaders say, it is payback time. When Congress last debated broad reform, in 2007, populist energy was on the side of those opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants. Angry resistance from Republicans defeated a legalization proposal by President George W. Bush.This time the young immigrants are the rising force, and they seek legislation to give them a direct and permanent path to citizenship. But recalling that Mr. Obama also promised at the start of his first term to move swiftly on immigration overhaul, they say their attitude toward him is wait-and-see.“People are not going to hug the president right now,” said Carlos Saavedra, 26, an immigrant from Peru and national coordinator of United We Dream, the largest network of young immigrants here illegally. “They are waiting for him to take some action.”...In March 2011, United We Dream gathered hundreds of youths at a meeting in Memphis, a city chosen for its connection with the civil rights movement. The group embraced the strategy of focusing on the president. By early 2011, more than one million people had been deported under Mr. Obama’s administration. The immigrants were convinced a president who had overseen so many deportations could stop them.Mr. Obama saw the results in July in Washington, at the annual conference of N.C.L.R., or the National Council of La Raza. When he said in a speech that he could not bypass Congress to help young illegal immigrants, activists in the audience erupted in shouts: “Yes you can! Yes you can!”
In the summer of 2011, administration officials began to ease up on enforcement, steering federal agents to concentrate their efforts on removing immigrants who had been convicted of crimes. Seizing that leverage, Dreamer groups stopped dozens of deportations, getting news coverage and rallying communities around young people facing removal.That made more young immigrants feel confident they could protest without being detained, Ms. Jimenez said. New organizations, including the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, embraced confrontational tactics, inviting arrest with sit-ins on streets and in public offices.In the spring of this year, United We Dream held demonstrations in two dozen cities. A group of walkers set out from San Francisco, heading to Denver where they occupied the office of the Obama campaign.The political equation changed when Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, said in April that he was preparing a new bill to give visas to young immigrants. Ms. Pacheco met with Mr. Rubio and his staff, and United We Dream praised his efforts.EmboldenedWorried, White House officials scheduled a meeting in mid-April with United We Dream leaders. In a Washington church (since illegal immigrants could not enter the White House), Valerie Jarrett, the president’s senior adviser, and Cecilia Muñoz, the domestic policy adviser, insisted that Mr. Obama had no legal authority to issue an order granting deportation protection.“With all due respect,” Ms. Praeli replied, “I disagree.”According to several participants, an emboldened Ms. Praeli confronted the officials. “I was talking about the president’s authority; that was my role, challenging him,” Ms. Praeli said.In late May, Dreamer group leaders marshaled more than 90 immigration law professors to sign a letter to Mr. Obama specifying legal precedents he could evoke for a large-scale program deferring deportations. United We Dream announced new protests with civil disobedience, the first to be held in Los Angeles on June 15.That day, President Obama announced the reprieve program, officially known as deferred action for childhood arrivals. The two-year deferrals provide no legal status. Senior administration officials noted that Mr. Obama did not issue an executive order, instead framing the program as a further easing of his deportation policy.To Dream leaders, the victory was theirs. “It was a lot of emotions, full of tears,” Ms. Jimenez said. “We worked so hard, and we got something.”
You can see the smart way these activists focused on the president and used the leverage they had - political votes and support from Latinos who were legal voters - to get what they wanted out of him.
Oh, and they engaged people in the other party too, because they know if you give your allegiance to only one party and promise undying fealty to that party, you might not get what you want - instead they'll just take you for granted.
It worked - the Obama people quaked when activists approached Rubio over the issue the Obama people and gave the immigrant activist movement some of what it wanted.
Not all, to be sure - there is work to be done.
But they had success at pressuring a president who wanted nothing to do with the DREAM Act and at the time was deporting more illegal immigrants than his predecessor.
Education activists should have learned from this playbook this year.
Instead of endorsing the anti-teacher, pro-privatization Barack Obama a year and a half out, as the NEA did, instead of complaining about Obama's ed policies for four years and then endorsing him publicly before the election, as some prominent education activists and leaders did, people who are opposed to Obama's policies should have come together and said "We need to use the leverage we have against Obama in what "experts" are saying is going to be a close presidential race to get these damaging Race to the Top policies ended."
Instead, many teachers and the teachers union leadership promised undying fealty to Obama, promised to vote for him despite his damaging policies, and in the case of the AFT and the NEA, raised money for him and provided a GOTV effort.
No wonder Obama and his advisers treat teachers and teachers unions with disdain - they can see how naive, short-sighted and self-destructive many education activists and teachers are.
The way toward successfully pushing Democrats and perhaps even some Republicans to oppose corporate education reform is there - LGBT and immigrant activists have shown the way with their successful moves to get what they wanted out of this president and his administration.
Now teachers and education activists need to use these lessons.