Meeting with Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders

March 20th, 2016

As we waited at the basement of Key Arena, the door at the front of the room opened, and Sen. Bernie Sanders walked in flanked by a swarm of staff and cameras. Sanders pointed to his watch, jokingly apologizing for running late in typical Sanders fashion.

With a hoarse voice he thanked the people in the room, including the 11 representatives of the Washington Dream Coalition, for making time and asked if anyone had a question. Our hands shot up immediately.

“Yes, you all in the back”, said Sanders as he pointed to us in the corner.

President Obama has overseen more than 2 million deportations. Our community knows ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) is a rogue agency, notorious for conducting raids, even against the direction of the President. Why should we expect things to change if you are President?” Asked agatha, a brave undocumented student leader at the University of Washington.


The answer from Sen. Sanders certainly took us aback.

Sanders declared, “If elected President, we will end deportations” He was interrupted by applause and continued, “that will not be something that [local] DHS offices do. Does that answer your question?”

During this campaign season, we’ve seen Dreamers play unprecedented, decisive roles in the presidential races. Some working for campaigns, others endorsing. Yet these practices seem to have left those in our immigrant community without the prominence or profile in a vulnerable spot, feeling as though they’ve been sold out, co-opted or compromised.

We did not want to make that mistake. We accepted the invitation from the campaign to meet with Sen. Sanders, but only our terms. We didn’t care for selfies or handshakes. We demanded answers and commitment.

Before we actually met with Sen. Sanders, we all went over the (very few) details that had been provided by the campaign. Our meeting would be short. We’d have roughly 15 minutes with the Senator before he address the crowd.

The next four hours were spent pouring over the dozens of questions we had gathered from our family, friends, and membership of Washington Dream Coalition. We ran through every scenario imaginable. Taking into consideration changes in time or format, and collectively prioritized the most urgent questions. It was not easy.

As the meeting approached, we were informed that our meeting wouldn’t last 15 minutes, but instead we’d probably only get one question in, as the meeting would also be attended by people from other advocacy organization.


We quickly adjusted our strategy and prioritized questions on ICE and deportations. A terrible legacy of President Obama that’s left two million broken families in it’s way side. We put the rest of the questions to campaign staff and demanded answers for each. We had come too far.

And his answer was not what we had expected. Immigration has often been a one-sided debate, where both parties demand militarization are often blind to the terror our communities face when ICE shows up at our door.

To be clear, he did not exactly answer our question. ICE has been a rogue agency from the get go. The mission of local offices and officers has been to raid, detain, and deport as many of our people as they can, even when it conflicts with direct orders from the President. Was Sanders prepared to fire ICE officers that undermine his orders? ICE officers have a powerful, regressive union. Was  Sanders prepared to defund ICE, whose budget balloons year after year? We simply do not know.

But even so, his statement was historic. It was the first time a presidential candidate was campaigning on ending deportations. A demand that can be heard at every immigrant rights protest from California to Florida. A demand that has long been thought of as improbable and impossible by the political elite. But a demand that means life or death for many of our families.

There is still work to be done. Our movement has made it possible for a major Presidential candidate to demand #NOT1MORE. But our movement must do more, if we’re to turn that dream a reality.


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