DREAMer Walter Lara’s Delayed Deportation A Pyrrhic Victory for Immigrant Rights

By Julianne Hing Jul 06, 2009

Walter Lara was supposed to spend this July 4th weekend saying his goodbyes to his family in Florida. The 23-year-old Orlando resident’s deportation order was set for today, July 6th. Lara graduated with an associate’s degree in computer animation from Miami Dade Honor College. He says he found out he was undocumented when he went to apply for college. He was stopped and given a deportation order earlier this year. But after a frenzied couple months of multi-pronged organizing which included the involvement of SEIU, support from Lara’s senator, Bill Nelson, and the online organizing efforts of DREAM Act activists scattered around the country, DHS postponed Lara’s deportation. People are celebrating, and rightly so. People are calling it a victory, and as far as campaigns with young activists leveraging their political muscle go, it’s a major win. Folks got DHS to listen and respond favorably. A major talking point in Lara’s story was that he didn’t know he was in the country without papers. He excelled in school. He was a standup kid, an all-American guy. But when this is the story we have to sell to keep someone in the country, who gets left behind? And what did we really win? Lara is now authorized to work in the country, but he also has a new deportation date: July 3, 2010. The immigration rights movement, forced into a defensive posture, is down on its knees begging for crumbs. Pleading to keep only the "good" immigrants in the country, those who will labor with their heads down, without asking for rights. DREAMers are in the business of selling an image as a class of exceptional, pristine high achievers. The language of the DREAM Act demands that those who would benefit from its passage be of "good moral character." When the DREAM Act is passed, heck, when immigration reform gets passed, people in this country will feel so magnanimous. But families will still get torn apart because we insist on dividing immigrants into two camps: the good and deserving, and the bad and unworthy. ColorLines recently went to Jamaica on a reporting trip to investigate the effects of criminal deportations on families and communities. We met people who’d been deported because they were caught smoking a blunt in their car. We met people who’d been deported because they were convicted for possession of several kilos of cocaine. We met a man who was ordered removed from the country because he shot another person. Who has room in their hearts for people whose life stories also include a past of pedestrian crimes or even larger transgressions, when we reduce the immigrant community to the Walter Lara’s in it? Who has time to fight for those whose lives are contextualized within the struggles of real-life racism and poverty? Walter Lara should never be deported, but neither should have any of the people we met in Jamaica. The very same people we’d met who’d been convicted of deportable crimes had also put down roots in the United States. They’d lived in the country for decades. Their families were here in the U.S. They owned homes, they ran businesses, they were trying to put their kids through college. They had dreams of their own. I’m proud of the organizing efforts that helped Lara stay in the country another year. I’m happy for him and his family. But we have to expand the category of who deserves to stay in the country, or else we’ll lose much more than we’ll ever gain when immigration reform gets here.