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How Not To Win Immigration Reform

Something rather bizarre has been happening for the past few weeks.
Enthusiasm for comprehensive immigration reform is waning, despite many wonderful and brave political actions to the contrary.
Why is that? I will leave the explanation for some other day. What I find more curious and perplexing is that self-proclaimed advocates for immigration reform are not busy trying to work on saving comprehensive immigration reform. Instead, many of them have turned their attention to attacking undocumented immigrant organizers.
Ever since the path-breaking DREAM 9 action, where several undocumented youth self-deported to Mexico, and brought back six other individuals to reunite with their families, my undocumented friends and I have been the target of various efforts to harass, intimidate, threaten, abuse and defame me over social media. Now I neither planned nor participated in the DREAM 9 action and have not been as involved in grassroots actions for the past three years so I find the blowback towards me almost amusing. It is as if someone flipped a coin and decided, “Lets go after Prerna Lal and the other non-Mexican dreamers.”
For the past few weeks, self-proclaimed supporters of comprehensive immigration reform, including various immigration attorneys, have put my home address online repeatedly in order to intimidate and harass me. My former law firm and I were falsely accused of perpetrating fraud to the U.S. Supreme Court. They have also accused me of committing tax fraud, and several other crimes of dishonesty in order to discredit me and my work. These are serious, baseless and defamatory allegations. I have repeatedly tried not to engage because as a rule, you do not engage with people trying to repeatedly stalk and bully you. You report them to the authorities and you try to stay away from them.
My work is clearly making an impact. It is quite flattering that I even have my own hashtag now and people spend countless hours obsessively pouring over everything I have ever written, and making me even more famous. It is rather fascinating to watch it unfold at times, and to watch people actually scheming to hurt me and my partner for no reason other than loathing over my national origin or political opinion. What is more bizarre is that these so-called advocates are justifying their actions against undocumented immigrant organizers and our partners by stating that it is in defense of comprehensive immigration reform.
I did not realize that immigration reform needed defending from those who would be most likely to benefit from it. Over time, it has dawned on me that I should not take this personally, and that I should simply be flattered with all the attention. I know now that advocates want to pin the failure of comprehensive immigration reform legislation on those of us who have been busy winning on various levels. I have also come to realize that the attacks on my character and livelihood have been an attempt to curb my political speech. There are many who want to eliminate the voices of so-called “radical dreamers” — those of us who stand up to ideas of American exceptionalism, assimilation, bloodshed and question whether citizenship, rather than racial justice, is the appropriate framework for immigrant rights. They want us to not express our political opinions, not try to win relief for our communities, but get in line with other undocumented immigrants, parrot their message and follow their directions. Well, that is not about to happen.
Lately, I have also faced criticism for not being Mexican-American, as if only Latinos are impacted by immigration issues. The attacks against me decrying my heritage as not Mexican, are racially-motivated, and especially hateful and vile. “Dreamers” are a diverse group of people from various different backgrounds, and our shared experiences bring us together as part of a marginalized but powerful multiracial community. We have many leaders in the community who are Asian American or Pacific Islanders, including my friends, Jose Antonio Vargas, Tony Choi, and the late Tam Tran. We have all worked to win support for our cause, and to win relief for millions more undocumented immigrants. We have worked to win instate tuition and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in many states. We have stopped numerous deportations and brought people home after they were deported. Perhaps, this is what angers people — that our multi-racial community organizing has successfully mobilized and empowered thousands of people to win and to secure our own communities.
These attempts to discredit and encourage abuse against political activists is nothing new. Throughout U.S. history, leaders of social movements for racial equality and labor rights were threatened and targeted with deportation, labeled as terrorists, imprisoned and killed. In addition to high-profile political dissenters such as Marcus Garvey and Claudia Jones, many average workers were also targeted for their political beliefs. I remember when ICE agents went to raid the homes of undocumented immigrant organizers such as Gaby Pacheco and Tam Tran. We still live in an era where those with more power and privilege than us think is is alright to abuse us and our bodies.
I have been targeted similarly, first with deportation by the U.S. government. Then, after the threat of deportation failed to silence me, self-identifying immigration reform advocates took on tactics such as intimidation, harassment, threats, stalking and bullying to chill my freedom of expression, and to divert my energy from organizing our communities to win, to protecting my home and family. There is a way to politically disagree with people, and stalking in order to bully, intimidate and harass them is not the way, especially from persons who are supposed to be our advocates and maintain some ethical standards as part of the legal profession.
At this point, rather than giving in to threats and counter-productive efforts to hurt the undocumented youth movement, it would be wise for everyone to disengage with negative people and put all hands on deck and work on winning relief for immigrant communities. Our communities need a win. As an accomplished immigrant rights advocate, I am only interested in engaging persons who actually want to help win relief for our communities.
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By Prerna Lal

Prerna Lal is undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic. As a founder of DreamActivist, Prerna helped to create a robust network of highly-organized and diverse undocumented youth with digital engagement capacity. Since then, her model of organizing has been used by immigration organizations across the country to end deportations. Her work and commentary for immigrant rights has been featured in newspapers such as The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and magazines such as the US News and World Report, as well as international outlets in a dozen countries.

Prerna currently resides in Washington D.C. with her same-sex U.S. citizen partner, and has been a Board Director at Immigration Equality, an organization that works on issues around LGBT immigrants, since 2010. She is currently working on publishing her first book.

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