Today the House passed the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, bringing millions of immigrants who came to the US as kids, who are eligible for Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Enforced Departure, or who worked in agriculture, one step closer to permanent protection and access to life-sustaining resources, opportunities, and care. Yet this step towards protection for some comes with a tradeoff, one that will be paid by the thousands of undocumented people who would remain criminalized under this bill. In addition to being subject to exclusions in current law, most people with one felony, three misdemeanors or a single domestic violence misdemeanor conviction will be rejected from the Dream and Promise Act outright. Every applicant under the Dream Act will also be subject to a review of whether they are a “public safety” threat, based on criteria such as gang affiliation or juvenile delinquency. This tradeoff was based on a political calculation by Congressional leaders who included these criminalizing provisions despite actions by 48 members of Congress and the objection of 150+ organizations who agreed that included exclusions—which go even further than those in our current, draconian system—go too far. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act similarly subjects people to broad exclusions.
Last summer, building on decades of organizing, millions of people showed up day after day to protest this country’s racialized system of punishment. The Dream and Promise Act is also built on years of organizing, continually pushing back against a system that thrives on control, punishment, and exclusion—reducing people to one-dimensional categories, compounding any harm, violence, or marginalization they have already encountered in their lives, and putting already restricted resources even further out of their reach.
Representations of “dangerous outsiders” or “the enemy within” have always been a foundational part of nation-building and defining belonging in the United States. The 1996 laws—which sparked the founding of IDP—vastly expanded the role of the racist criminal legal system in making it as easy as possible for the government to exclude, imprison and expel people. The founding of DHS six years later turbocharged the power of these laws and the immigrant policing apparatus at an unprecedented rate. We have had to remain nimble, alert, and vigilant in the face of unrelenting attacks on our communities. The work to transform a system that has become so enormous and so entrenched in the criminal legal system is a long one. But a system that is so heavily invested in suffering cannot continue to thrive. The momentum for racial justice necessitates that we continue to build to end criminalization and marginalization across systems.