Duarte: Democratic betrayals and the inefficacy of the two-party system
Updated: Feb 20, 2019
by Allyson Duarte
The following is a discussion about the Democratic Party's inability to hold the line on progressive issues at the expense of undocumented immigrants. In particular, Congressman Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke's (D-16th) betrayal of undocumented youth with a vote for the February 9 spending bill (H.R. 1892), which did not include protections for DREAMers, going back on a promise to me, my brother, an ally and another RGV DREAMer over dinner in Washington D.C. in January. O’Rourke is a candidate in the Democratic Party primary for Texas’ 2018 Senate race along with Sema Hernandez from Houston and Edward Kimbrough from Little Rock, Arkansas.
Early voting began this week and ends March 2. Elections are March 6.
Photo: Heather D’Anne | As I spoke with Congressman O’Rourke, I looked around the room and could not help but notice that some of his supporters’ facial expressions suggested that my presence and inquiry discomforted them.
On Tuesday, February 13, at his town hall at the Echo Hotel in Edinburg, I returned to O’Rourke the money he spent on buying dinner in D.C.
Here's why I did it.
As a group of nearly 200 attendees gathered inside the Echo Hotel in Edinburg, I made an entrance into the conference room with a good friend who was going to livestream the interaction on Facebook.
There, O’Rourke entertained the audience in a sight that resembled a mass in progress; the crowd cheered, applauded and praised him for his many promises.
After a period of nearly 10 minutes, Congressman O’Rourke began to take questions. At that moment, I raised my hand and proceeded to get in line after being indicated to do so by a woman whose task it was to pass a microphone along to those with questions. Upon listening to three speakers, it was my turn to go up. I took the microphone and made my way to the front of the room to greet O’Rourke and inquire about his vote in favor of the spending bill on February 9.
“What was the reasoning behind the Feb. 8 vote for the spending bill? I understand that the bill catered pretty much to all the priorities of the Democratic Party, but it just killed the possibility of passing a DREAM Act or any kind of sensible immigration policy that would take care of not only my needs, but the needs of over 60,000 immigrant youth that are here in the RGV.”
Upon hearing my question, the woman in charge of the microphone attempted to take it away from me, to which I resisted by saying "I intend to continue speaking with the Congressman.” O’Rourke immediately told the woman, “that’s fine,” and proceeded to explain:
“For the first time, in a long time, we were going to have predictability in government spending not for a year, but for two years [...] In that spending bill there were billions of dollars to finally match the need so many of us have felt [...] My decision was that voting ‘no’ on the budget, and voting to continue the shutdown, [...] and stopping all functions of the government, was not likely to be able to produce the result that we wanted, which was protection for those Dreamers [...] My hope is that as the Senate provides a compromise consensus deal, that we in the House can provide a companion legislation.”
After listening attentively, I looked up at the Congressman and said, “Actions speak louder than words. [We’re] the least of us, the scapegoats of the government. You’re sacrificing us, and that’s not nice.”
I then put my hand inside my shirt pocket, pulled out a $20 bill, and handed it to O’Rourke saying, as my voiced cracked and eyes watered, “my dignity is not for sale.” From there, I turned around, handed the microphone to the women in charged, and walked out.
Photo: Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s Facebook Page | Southern border DREAMers’ round table with Congressman Beto O’Rourke in Washington D.C.
This was not the first time Congressman O’Rourke and I had met. As a matter of fact, we interacted a couple times before the town hall. The first time I had an opportunity to question O’Rourke was on October 26, 2017 in Washington, D.C., where he hosted a round table with DACA recipients from El Paso and other southern border communities. There, I asked O’Rourke if he would consider voting against the end of the year spending bill if the bill did not include protections for immigrant youth:
“No[...] I don’t know that I would unilaterally try to hold off government funding based on that, only because I think there are other ways for us to get the DREAM Act passed.”
Hearing this was extremely disappointing, especially from someone who has been known to be a strong DREAM advocate. A few minutes after the round table was over, however, Congressman O’Rourke approached me and inquired if DREAMers were considering to push representatives to vote against the spending bill, to which I replied; “Yes, this is something that even Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is willing to do.”
The second time I had an interaction with Mr. O’Rourke was on January 18, 2018, following Congress’ CR (Continuing Resolution) vote that very night. We met outside the Cannon House Office Building as my brother, Christian Duarte, my friend and DREAMer, Abraham Díaz, and our good ally, Karrie Centeno, were exiting the building upon being kicked out of Congressman Vicente González’s office, who refused to see us and voted in support of the CR despite having more than 7,000 DREAMers in his district.
After hearing about our experience at Vicente González’s office, O’Rourke asked if we had any plans for the night, we did not. O’Rourke asked if we had had dinner. “No,” I answered. He said he knew of a burger place we might like to try if we had not too many burgers while on our trip.
As we made our way to the restaurant, I could not help but notice the kind demeanor of the congressman. It was nice to see that he cared enough to talk to us, especially after our frustrating experience with our own Congressman’s chief of staff, José Borjón (who threatened LUPE into calling-off a press-conference scheduled outside González’s office to express disappointment in his vote).
To this day, I am still unsure about what compelled Congressman O’Rourke to ask where we were staying and what we were planning to do that night. My brother and myself did not have a place to sleep, while Abraham and Karrie did. As far as a plan for the night was concerned, we, quite frankly, did not know what to do. Being inside Congressman González’s office was extremely exhausting, both physically and emotionally. Not only had we spent more than 2 hours awaiting González, but we had been in D.C. for an entire week doing activism and other forms of advocacy to advance our cause: the passage of a Clean DREAM Act. For Karrie and Abraham the experience was even more extenuating as they had made the trip to D.C. by bus, driving a total of 36 hrs from McAllen to the Capitol.
Photo: Beto O’Rourke | Post dinner selfie (Left to Right: Congressman O’Rourke, Allyson Duarte, Abraham Díaz, Karrie Centeno, and Christian Duarte)
From our dinner and conversation with Congressman O’Rourke, I could tell he is a good man. Hearing him reiterate his commitment to support immigrant youth made me wish that he was my congressman. Instead, I had Vicente González, to whom I was briefly introduced at a Winter, holiday event that he hosted in McAllen on December, where he simply inquired if I was a DREAMer, and said, “I support DREAMers!.” He handed me one a business card and said “visit my office next time you are in D.C.”
However, my admiration for Congressman O'Rourke ended on February 9, 2018, when, along with 72 other House Democrats, including our very own RGV Congressmen, he caste a vote to fund the government, effectively giving away the only leverage undocumented youth had to push for legislation addressing the crisis created by the termination of DACA on September 5.
It is for this reason that I returned $20 to Congressman O'Rourke on behalf of my brother and myself during his town hall. While the Congressman treated us kindly in D.C., his vote on the Spending Bill meant further delay for the immigrant community, which translates into immigrant youth losing protection from deportation. More than 850 are losing their status every week, 122 per day, and about 1 in the time you may spend reading this article.
O'Rourke tried to restore our shattered selves by paying for dinner on January 18, right after hearing about our experience at Congressman Vicente González’s office, who voted in favor of the spending bill and refused to see us. However, by supporting the spending bill on February 9, and despite making rounds calling DREAMers to "apologize" and "explain his vote,” Congressman O'Rourke, as you hear in this video, gives the same argument as Vicente Gonzalez ("keeping the government open") to justify his vote! Thus, he sides with the political monstrosity pushing for border wall construction and border militarization in D.C., even if that was never O’Rourke’s intention.
Surprisingly, despite alluding to an argument similar to that of Congressman González to justify his vote in support of the spending bill, O’Rourke is yet to receive any form of public criticism for his vote from community members other than myself.
While Congressman O’Rourke claims that it was not his intention to curtail efforts to pass sensible immigration policy through his vote, as he simply could not forgo the enormous benefits that passage of the spending bill posed for other community groups (such as the defense community), when O’Rourke failed to vote against the spending bill, well-intentioned as he was, he ended up siding with the oppressor. The political machinery that threatens our lives.
The time has come for DREAMers to WAKE UP and realize that the Democratic Party establishment, and their neoliberal politics, do not represent working, undocumented people, but are very good at tricking us into thinking that they are.
Is our dignity is for sale? We must start working towards a politics that is class-conscious, defiant and irreverential to obsolete hierarchical structures, and determined to remove the antagonisms created by capitalism, of which our current predicament is one of many.
At this point, early voting for senatorial primaries is under way and the March 5 deadline for an immigration fix looms. Based on my experience in the last six months, advocating for a Clean DREAM Act, seeing the way the Democratic Party has continuously failed to hold the line for us, I can quite honestly say that everything seems to suggest that poor immigration policy will come out of Washington D.C., coupled with border wall construction. Just look at last Wednesday's attempt to negotiate immigration as a stand-alone issue. The effort was killed by the White House.
So, tell me: What is it that YOU plan to do about it? Will you stand idly by and hope for the best or will you take action?