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Thanu Yakupityage: “Dreamers” oppose GOP plan to restrict path to citizenship to military recruitment

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.

Last week, before President Obama’s State of the Union speech, some immigrant rights activist groups said to President Obama, don’t brag about your record on immigration in this speech, ’cause you don’t have too much to brag about. Well, I guess they sort of got their way, ’cause President Obama didn’t say very much about immigration, except for a line about send me a bill that creates a pathway to citizenship, and then not too much more.

Now joining us to talk about all of this is Thanu Yakupitiyage. She joins us from New York. Thanks for joining us, Thanu.


JAY: So Thanu works with the Occupied Wall Street working group on immigrant justice and workers rights. Thanks for joining us. So talk of little bit about, first of all, President Obama’s speech. There was very, very little about immigration and such question. One little reference to [it], I guess, was the DREAM Act. What did you make, first of all, of the speech?

YAKUPITIYAGE: I mean, I thought it was pretty typical of State of the Union speeches. And I think he gave his support for the DREAM Act again. And, you know, he has been pretty consistent in showing his support for the DREAM Act and saying that he would sign that bill. And so it’s a good thing that he brought it up.

However, in general, immigration wasn’t talked about that much. He said that he is for comprehensive immigration reform, that the Congress should be working towards that, and he said put a bill on my table. And, of course, we all know that it’s a lot more complicated than just, like, giving the president a bill. So while words are lovely, they mean very little when we want action.

JAY: So how do you think this is going to play out during the election campaign? President Obama has, according to—immigrant rights groups mostly say he’s done very little in terms of leading this issue and are not very happy with the rate of deportations, which have gone way up under his administration. On the other hand, the Republican Party’s Gingrich and particularly Romney seem to be trying to outduel each other with just how draconian and they’re going to get in terms of immigrants. What’s your take?

YAKUPITIYAGE: I think right now it’s just a little bit of a circus. And I myself have a really hard time following, particularly, the Republican primaries. I think that Obama is still—he isn’t campaigning yet on the immigration issues. The State of the Union was the first time he really, like, mentioned it, and he kept it short, particularly considering some of the stuff that Mitt Romney has said that’s been taking a lot at the forefront of the news. He two or three weeks ago said that he would veto the DREAM Act and completely wouldn’t support it.

JAY: This is Romney you’re talking about.

YAKUPITIYAGE: This is Mitt Romney. So this is the complete opposite of President Obama. President Obama says he’ll support the DREAM Act, he’ll sign it. Mitt Romney says no, he’ll veto it. Mitt Romney also said in one of the primary debates that he is for self-deportation. So what this means is a little bit more complex than the soundbite that he’s giving out. He’s saying that he’s not about rounding up 11 million people; he’s about self-deportation. But what that actually means in reality is that—making it as hard as possible for undocumented immigrants to live their lives in the U.S., which basically is what Arizona’s SP 1070 law is doing, Alabama’s law is doing, Georgia’s law is doing, South Carolina’s law is doing. Those are the kind of laws that are making it so impossible for undocumented immigrants and immigrants in general to live their lives. And so I don’t think that his understanding or theory of self-deportation is really that fleshed out.

JAY: So what it means is you make the conditions so difficult that people want to leave.

YAKUPITIYAGE: That people want to leave, which I think is actually really unrealistic when you consider that about 5 percent of the labor force in the U.S. is run by undocumented immigrants. That was from a Washington Post article about the self-deportation myth that came out today or yesterday. So, actually, even if the circumstances for immigrants become so incredibly hard, immigrants are so deeply rooted in the U.S.—they have families here, they have their livelihoods here—that that’s—that isn’t going to work. It really is just inhumane to make these conditions even worse for immigrants.

JAY: Now, it’s kind of interesting. Newt Gingrich has actually been a little bit moderate on this compared to Romney, who seems to be trying to prove his right-wing credentials by being even more hawkish on immigration than Gingrich might be. One of the other wrinkles is that apparently there’s been a proposal—maybe you can speak a bit about this—from a few Republicans to pass the DREAM Act, but drop the educational component, that the only way, the only path to citizenship would be through joining the military. And last time you and I talked, did an interview, you said that a lot of the community, activist community, even though they don’t like this idea of pushing people into the military, at least the education option is something real. Now, if they drop the education option, does that mean that you and a lot of activists would drop your support for the DREAM Act?

YAKUPITIYAGE: I do not support a military-only DREAM Act. Representative David Rivera, he’s a Florida Republican. He’s the one who has proposed or introduced a military-only DREAM Act. And I think Mitt—sorry—Newt Gingrich has actually said that he would support the DREAM Act if it also—he basically said that it can’t only include—it can’t only be that young people go through college and they would also have to serve in the military to be able to go through the citizenship process.

I think that it’s really unfair to only have a military-only DREAM Act option. I think it basically presumes that young people, if they’re undocumented, they should die for this country, but we’re not going to give them a basic higher-level education. And that’s really unfair, because DREAMers across the country are fighting for their educations as well, and the education component is a key component to the DREAM Act and a lot of activists’ support for the DREAM Act.

JAY: Right. So in terms of what’s coming, I guess the discussions have already begun, both on Occupied Wall Street and in the activist community that deals on immigration issues. What’s planned in terms of how you’re going to—what role you’ll play in the election campaign?

YAKUPITIYAGE: I think that’s yet to be decided. I’m actually on my way to a OWS Immigrant Worker Justice meeting, so a lot of this stuff is—you know, it’s still the beginning of the year. We’re still trying to figure out what our strategy is and what that looks like in recognition of this being an election year. So I can’t really answer that as of yet.

JAY: And in terms of—just in terms of your sense of it, do you think that this will be a galvanizing issue for Hispanics in terms of whether—one, deciding who to vote for, and maybe more importantly, whether they’re going to vote or not?

YAKUPITIYAGE: M’hm. I don’t—I can’t really speak towards whether they will vote or not. I think that immigration is a very strong issue, particularly this year. I think, considering a lot of the anti-immigrant laws that are being passed, the fact that Florida in and of itself, a lot of activists pushed for an anti-immigrant law not be passed in Florida (and that was a huge win), immigration is a very large topic on everyone’s minds. And I think that once President Obama starts to more deeply campaign, this is an issue that he’s going to address as well. And as we can see from the Republican primary [incompr.] it’s already come up as a huge issue. So I do think that it’s going to be an important issue this election.

JAY: Alright. Well, thanks for joining us, Thanu.

YAKUPITIYAGE: Thank you so much.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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