Last week when I wrote about Dream Activists and Asylum Seekers, I caused a bit of a kerfuffle. Hopefully, today, I will do better, and this post won't be quite so kerfuffle-inducing (and yes, I plan to see how many times I can use the word "kerfuffle" in one post - according to Carl Kasell, so far that's three).

First, a bit of housekeeping. If you have not read my post from last week, this entry will be harder to follow.

Probably the main objection to my posting last week was my insinuation that the asylum claims of the Dream 30 were not legitimate. However, based on the comments from their attorneys/advocates David Bennion and Mathew Kolken, it seems that the claims are legitimate, and so I will take that as a given for purposes of this blog post.

Explaining stuff helps us understand.

With that as background, there are two issues I want to discuss: (1) From a moral and policy point of view, is there any problem with using the Dream 30's asylum cases to promote a political agenda (the Dream Act) when that agenda is unrelated to the substance of the asylum claim (fear of persecution in Mexico)? and (2) Will this strategy move the Dream Activists closer to their goal?

Political asylum cases are, by their nature, political (duh). This means that the claimants have a political agenda. Normally, that agenda relates to the substance of their claim. For example, I represented a Pakistani journalist who opposed the government and faced persecution because of his activities. After he received asylum, he spoke about his case in the media to try to gain attention for his cause. This seems perfectly legitimate.

The journalist's case is different from the Dream Activists, in that the activists are not publicizing their cases to highlight the political situation in Mexico. Instead, they are highlighting the failure of the U.S. government to pass immigration reform. I worried that this use of asylum would somehow damage the asylum system. So are the Dream Activists under any obligation to justify their actions? And, if so, is there a justification for using the asylum system in this manner?

First, why should the Dream 30 be required to justify their use of the asylum system as a form of protest? They have legitimate reasons for seeking asylum, and if they want to use their cases to gain attention for the Dream Act or for any other cause, isn't that their business? Speaking for myself, without such a justification, I find it very difficult to support their political action (though I certainly support their right to seek asylum, as per the letter from Bill Ong Hing). Although it may sound corny, having represented hundreds of asylum seekers, I believe that our system of asylum is, in some ways, sacred. It is a system that is designed to--and does--save lives. If that system is going to be used for some ulterior motive, I, for one, would like an explanation.

I can image some possible justifications: Maybe the activists think publicizing these cases will help advance immigration reform; maybe they want to demonstrate that when undocumented immigrants leave the U.S., their lives are at risk; maybe they want to alert other Dream Act-eligible people to the possibility that they might avoid removal by seeking asylum; maybe they want to inspire other undocumented people to come forward; or perhaps there is another reason for their actions that I have not thought of. My point being, it would be nice to know what the Dream Activists want.

The second big question for me is whether the strategy of publicizing the Dreamers' asylum claims will accomplish their political goal (whatever that might be). Assuming the goal is immigration reform of some kind, I have seen no explanation for how publicizing these asylum cases will move our country towards that goal.

Certainly, it could simply be that I am ill informed. However, I am more than a casual observer, and I am not a complete idiot (at least on my better days). So if I don't get it, probably many others don't either. The Dream activists have done an extraordinary job of publicizing the Dream 30 (and the Dream 9 before them), but they have failed to capitalize on this initial attention to move the discussion in a positive direction. Indeed, it seems to me that they have completely lost the initiative, as the discussion has bogged down in internecine internet warfare. Maybe if the Dreamers had been more clear from the beginning about their goals and strategy, the debate over these issues would not have taken such an unproductive turn.

It is not too late for the Dream Activists to re-take the initiative and extricate themselves from the unproductive tit-for-tat with other immigrant advocates. For a start, they need to clearly explain a few things: (1) When and under what circumstances did the members of the Dream 30 leave the U.S. and why are they seeking asylum (their lawyer David Bennion did a pretty good job of this in response to my blog post from last week); (2) What is the ultimate goal of the Dream Activists; and (3) How does the action at the border help achieve that goal.

For me--and, I suspect, for others--clear answers to these questions would be a good way to begin a productive dialogue about goals and strategy, and would go a long way towards bringing us on board with the Dream Activists' plan. But for now, without a good explanation, I am simply not convinced that the Dreamers' actions have done anything to advance the cause of undocumented people, asylum seekers, or immigration reform.

Kerfuffle - 4.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: