Crowdsourcing Immigrant Dreams

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | Leave a comment

Infographic on how Social Media are being used...

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Those who are afraid to fail never really come close to succeeding.

I’ve had old school activists look down at our use of social media. That’s fine. I am not in the business of changing how people organize (unless I am getting paid for it). Social media cannot replace door-to-door advocacy. Rather, it is a readily accessible tool and we don’t need to look to Egypt or Iran to see how people can use it to drive social change in their own communities. We have it right here at home, in the form of undocumented immigrant youth using social media for the advancement of their right to live in the United States.

Organizing for the DREAM Act is the sexy part of the immigrant rights movement. Almost everyone wants to be on the bandwagon. I would even say that it has become the “marriage equality” of the immigrant rights movement. But it wasn’t always the case. We had to fight really hard to get there.

It started innocently enough. In late 2007, seven undocumented students came together in a virtual chat room on a DREAM Act forum to talk about the need for an action-oriented site for the DREAM Act. They purchased a domain called for merely $10. Having virtually no organizing or social media skills beforehand, they taught themselves how to use the technology and resources available to them to build a new powerhouse in the world of immigrant rights with a following that rivaled and went beyond multi-million dollar beltway groups. It didn’t really take money — it just took attitude and initiative.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win. And that’s how it went down. For years, these young immigrants were ignored by larger advocacy groups. As they formed communities online and across the country, they were told that their demands for a standalone DREAM Act and a progressive immigration reform bill was completely out of question. Fueled by millions of dollars, immigration reform advocates (never to be mistaken for immigrant rights advocates) ridiculed immigrant youth and their efforts, often using these youth as tokens.¬† Immigrant youth were shut out and shut down during meetings and conferences where backdoor deals were hatched. At the same time, they were also used to lead organizing trainings across the country. And after all was said and done, the very organizations who fought against Dreamers but could not jump start their own vehicle had to jump on board a dingy that was beating them hard and fast. And since they knew nothing about steering, it helped no one as the reform part of the immigration battle sunk without trace.

Part of the success of the DREAM movement for immigrant rights has to do with the willingness of undocumented students to plan and carry out highly strategic civil disobedience actions around the country as a community of advocates who are undocumented, unapologetic and unafraid. But this was not always the case. Social media has been critical in planning and advancing these goals and getting undocumented youth from the depths of oblivion to the heights of public-policy making in the White House.

It was in the deep periphery of the internets when a few undocumented youth started sharing their stories. It started with “My name is _______ and I am undocumented.” This small but vocal group of DREAM youth refused to be silenced. They connected with other youth in similar youth across the country. Narratives are a powerful organizing tool. But narratives that connect people to one another threaten to build community. Soon, they were ready to reveal their faces, organizing hunger strikes across the country, shutting down traffic in various cities and risking their lives. The small but powerful network they had built made them feel like an almost invincible force, ready and willing to take on even the President of the United States.

There is certainly power in organized clicks as immigrant youth activists use what is available to them online for specific campaigns such as ending the deportation of a particular student or tell Obama to quit campaigning using the DREAM Act while he is deporting more people than any other President.

But more than that, what undocumented students have done online is build a community of activists across the country who identify with one another through a cause: the passage of the DREAM Act. In this particular community, people may have never met one another but they share a trust and bond that is grounded in recognition that they are in similar circumstances and united for a common purpose. The battle for the legislation created a community of activists that continue to fight for their rights in several spheres. More than strategy or money, that is what fuels the movement.

Want to stop the deportation of an undocumented student? Shoot a video and upload it to Facebook. Write a message accompanying it and then tweet and facebook it. Within hours, it will likely go viral. An insurmountable network of immigrant rights allies will pick it up and take it upon themselves to stop the deportation.

Want to connect with other undocumented students? Check out the long list of undocumented students on Twitter who converse daily on everything from horoscopes to sex to immigrant rights.

As always, this is a work in progress.

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E-Verify Plus DREAM Act: No Deal

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | Leave a comment

Scanned image of author's US Social Security card.

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Ever since Harry Reid hinted at the possibility of attaching the newly introduced DREAM Act to E-verify legislation, the blogosphere has buzzed with this possibility. And now Lamar Smith is using the DREAM Act as a carrot, hoping we will chew the e-verify bundle of sticks like eager bunnies.

He obviously doesn’t know us very well.

To be honest, this isn’t a new conversation. We’ve been here before. But maybe it is time someone stood up and told both Lamar Smith and the Democrats where to put their lousy ideas.

I’m an e-verified dreamer. The funny thing about e-verify is that if you are undocumented and employed using a different identity as in a borrowed or stolen social security number, e-verify will not detect you. In fact, e-verify fails to work more than 50 percent of the time. 50 percent!

And it even ensnares unsuspecting U.S. citizens. My long-time U.S. citizen uncle was almost fired from his job at FedEx because the E-verify employee eligibility program failed to locate him. In fact, every former legal permanent resident and now naturalized U.S. citizen who forgets to inform the Social Security Administration of his/her change in status may fail e-verify and face the pink slip at work.

E-verify is not about ensuring jobs for every American. It is about extending the reach of the police state into our workplaces and our lives. It is a gateway to a national ID card system. We already have a Gestapo in the form of an unaudited and unaccountable Department of Homeland Security. The last thing the American public needs is a gateway to a bigger police state.

In many ways, e-verify spells doom for immigration reform advocates. Big business is hesitant to jump on board this ship. Civil libertarians will fight vehemently against such a system. And I have major doubts as to whether the immigrant rights movement would ever support such a trade-off.

It’s a ship that is going nowhere, quite like the Titanic of comprehensive immigration reform sank without even giving us a good love story.

And yet, some of our “civil rights leaders” are toying with this idea. Go figure.

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A Minor With Immigrant Intent?

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | Leave a comment

I just discovered another cause of my allegedly illegal status: a October 2002 letter requesting USCIS to abandon change of non-immigrant status from F-2 to F-1 and a January 2003 denial of the F-1 petition that we had already withdrawn.

The letter from the college states:

Please be advised that this student is abandoning her original petition to change to F-1 status as she is in the process of adjusting to immigrant status. She is an unmarried, minor and as such will assume her parents’ immigration status. Her mother’s immigrant petition was recently approved. We have attached evidence of her mother’s immigrant petition approval notice.

USCIS should have followed the law and honored the request since an applicant or petitioner has a right to withdraw the petition anytime before action is taken on it. Instead, they rejected the F-1 petition several months later with a note that the copy of the approved immigrant petition sent by the college showed immigrant intent, contrary to the non-immigrant requirements of the F-1. Of course, the college should never have done this but there is plenty of case precedent showing that someone on an F-1 can also have an intent to immigrate to this country as long as s/he follows legal channels.

I was a minor with absolutely no intent of my own to immigrate to the United States. But once again, USCIS chose to ignore the rule of law.

And after all is said and done, I’m the one who is allegedly illegal.

13 Years On

Posted on by Prerna in LGBTQ, Poetry | Leave a comment

Rainbow flags at the end of the gay, lesbian, ...

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Half my life ago, I first made out a girl.

I didn’t know whether I was straight, gay or bisexual. At least, I did not identify with those labels. I just knew that I loved her and wanted to be with her. That’s all that mattered.

And I took a leap of faith. It is still paying dividends. I would like to believe I have the same courage and conviction I had when I was 13, if not more.

A small part of the narrative is posted over at Gaysi Family.

Your beautiful eyes, so captivating
Your nearness, so mesmerizing
Your touch, so soothing
Your presence, so calming
In your loving arms, everything was forgotten

This one moment is etched forever in my memory.
And you are forever etched in my soul.

Love. It’s still all that has ever really mattered.


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Posted on by Prerna in Immigration, Poetry | Leave a comment

This view of Earth's horizon as the sun sets o...

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I am going home today.

Going home to a mother’s American dream
Her daughter’s Kafkaesque nightmare
A father’s woeful abuse and neglect
His daughter’s fatherless upbringing
A timeless tale of young love
Now divided by borders and oceans

There’s the trauma
I’ll have to turn it into traumatic-comedy
There’s the pain
It will become an entertaining dramedy

Bi-coastal and multi-lingual
I’m a San Franciscan living in DC
The South Pacific flows through my veins
My heart is desi, my thoughts American

I’m all about laying roots
In a country planning to give me the boot

It’s queer
America does not want me
Nor do I want America
Our feelings are at least mutual
It was an arranged marriage without our consent or papers
An abusive marriage I’ve to fight to keep while yearning for divorce

I live for the day I can go home and tell Mom:
“You made the right choice by bringing my here. We don’t have to live like this anymore.”

Today is not that day. So I live to tell her that tomorrow.

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My Sheroes

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | Leave a comment

Tam and Cinthia,

Two very good friends and sisters in the struggle who passed away on this day last year: You’ll always be in my heart.

Love, Prerna

A Time to Change: Unconscionable Contracts and Workers’ Rights to Use Social Media As Concerted Activity

Posted on by Prerna in Human Rights, Immigration | Leave a comment

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Since I believe in open and honest communication and people are curious as to what transpired between and me, here is a fleshed-out version. It is not meant to ruffle any feathers but just a statement of facts that transpired over the course of the last few days.

I was told early Friday morning — before my last law school final and arguably what was supposed to be the best day of my life this year — that all blogging contracts were being terminated. Shocked and upset, I rushed off an email to the “Immigrant Rights” team, asking them to clarify what was going on and whether there was something else in the works.

I received a clarification: they would love to keep me on at 1/3 pay and did not discuss a new contract with me because I was doing my exams. I still don’t understand why it is acceptable to send me a notice of contract termination during my exams but not two sentences about a new contract. It is incompetent communication.

I was noticeably livid and posted on Facebook and Twitter about my disappointment over losing my job. Then I went to take my final exams. That evening, instead of celebrating with my law school classmates, I stayed in and received a copy of my NTA from DHS with charges that made no sense. I was in removal proceedings facing provably false charges and just lost my job, which would have been a tremendous help during proceedings. It was an extremely tense and stressful situation for me and my entire family.

I checked my email later, which had apologies from practically everyone from the owner of the site down to the Editor of “Immigrant Rights.” On Saturday, I was on the phone with the “Director of Immigrant Rights,” who tried to apologize once again and work through a new contract. On Sunday, I was given a new offer with an apology. I accepted the apologies, agreed with the offer and asked for a formal contract to be drawn up.

I don’t need to get into how I virtually built that site and lent credibility to several causes over the last two years. I wasn’t just a blogger — I went above and beyond the call of duty to teach people how to write, organize and even recruit new members for the team. I was a constant model for how to organize using social media. And that is an understatement. But I digress.

Late on Monday night, I was told that the company had issues with my use of social media. They felt disparaged and pointed to a contract provision that stated that I could never speak ill of an employee or the company under the old contract and going forward in the future. I was told an exception would be made for my past use but not going forward.

In typical law student fashion, I pointed out that the contractual provision from the old contract and the new one on the table was
1) unconscionable (standard boilerplate contract)
2) a violation of public policy (per NLRB v. American Medical Response of Connecticut, prohibiting a worker’s concerted use of social media is illegal)

The next thing I hear, there is no contract for me: clearly, a violation  of an agreement-to-agree in good faith.

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Mark Your Calendar for May 6: A Benefit to Raise Awareness for the DREAM Act and Safe Schools

Posted on by Prerna in Law school | Leave a comment


Image by Light Knight via Flickr

One of the best things that came out of moving to Washington D.C. is the number of wonderful friends I have made out here. Some of them, along with some awesome law school mates, are holding a fundraiser for me this Friday at RAS, that also promises to be a benefit for the DREAM Act and Safe Schools.

It’s a crazy time: the government wants to separate me from my family, my job was terminated out of the blue, the law school housing is kicking me out quite soon and I’ve to move back to California and look for a full-time job.

So this is a great farewell as well as a good way of raising awareness. Special performances by DJ Zack Rosen and DJ Sicarii, fellow law school section-mate. Come join us because it promises to be a night of fun.

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The Death of Bin Laden: The End of An Era?

Posted on by Prerna in Nationalism, Politics | Leave a comment

It’s official — for the first time in history, hordes of mostly white people rioted for May Day outside the White House.

And most of them were The George Washington University students who heard the news about the gathering on Twitter, Facebook and through word of mouth. For me, this was a great moment in social media and I had to be there to capture this moment since I live a few blocks from the White House. Many of my law school friends joined to see the spectacle.

People ran through the streets of D.C. waving their American flags. Capital Bikeshare was instrumental in making sure that those who lived further away had some way of getting to and from the White House especially since the gathering took place close to midnight with the Metro not in operation. Drivers honked as they drove by Lafayette Park. Gathered directly outside the White House, people chanted U-S-A U-S-A and sang the national anthem more than a dozen times into the wee hours of the morning.

But unlike the projections by mainstream media, I don’t believe that all the young smiling faces were really out there celebrating the death of an insidious figure.

Some were definitely frat boys from my university. Many others joined their friends in celebration as a study break. Many were Obama supporters proud that he had just trumped Donald and secured his re-election. And for most of us gathered out there, it was less about nationalism and more about an end to an era. It’s a symbol of closure and hope for better times ahead.

But can the country finally recover from it’s rampant fear and suspicion of the Other?

While Bin Laden is finally dead, so are thousands of civilians and soldiers. Our rights and liberties are at an all-time low and our fear of everyone that is different from us at an all-time high. Thousands have been ripped from their families and deported in the past 10 years in the name of national security. It’s time to put an end to this.

I would like the President to bring our troops home, rescind the PATRIOT Act and end racial profiling at airports. He won’t do that. I would like to carry my shampoo and lotion on an airplane and keep my shoes on at airports. That’s unlikely to happen.

We’ve given up a lot in these past ten years: our respect around the world, our civil rights and liberties and our beacon as a country that welcomes the huddled masses. And we’ve gained little in return. Last night was a celebration with the hope that the coming years will be different.

But it is up to us to make it happen.

DHS Sends New Letter of Removal Proceedings With False Charges

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | 2 Comments

In response to all your supportive emails and requests (or in utter ignorance of it all), DHS has sent me another notice to appear and laid out the charges against me. Check them out:

It says I was admitted but I am removable because:

1. You are not a citizen or national of the United States

2. You are a native of FIJI and a citizen of FIJI

3. You were admitted to the United States at Los Angeles, California on or around November 13, 1999 as a non-immigrant B-2 visitor for pleasure with authorization to remain in the United States for a temporary period not to exceed November 10, 1999.

4. You remained in the United States beyond November 10, 1999 without authorization.

I neither admit nor deny 1  and 2. I absolutely deny 3 and 4 and challenge everyone to prove how it is even possible.

I am in removal proceedings for not leaving the country three days before I arrived; I was unauthorized three days before my authorized stay began. It definitely makes a whole lot less sense to me than aging-out at 21.

It concludes by saying “”You’re ordered to appear before an immigration judge to show why you shouldn’t be removed for the charges stated above.”

Right. I am throwing a giggle fit. Is that the best the Department of Homeland Security can do?

Also, my date of birth is wrong. Are these people literate? Now we know part of the reason immigration courts are backlogged so severely.

These letters don’t really bother me. But my family keeps getting terrorized through these notices of removal proceedings since they are sent to my California residence. They can’t really read or understand the finer details so every time they get a letter, they get really scared. It’s horrifying and unacceptable. And they aren’t the ones without legal status.

Thank you America, for terrorizing immigrant families who are here legally.

I suppose if the President has to show his papers, so does everyone else.

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