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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The immigration issue: two years out.

This October will mark the second anniversary of the publication of "Respect for the Law & Economic Fairness: Illegal Immigration Prevention", by Republican spinmeister, Frank Luntz.

Intended as a blueprint for winning the 2006 midterm elections, the 25-page memo laid out a strategy to provide cover for Republican candidates hampered by waning poll numbers. Luntz'a plan was to blame "illegal aliens" for all the nations social and economic ills, enabling a shift of attention from an unpopular war, unpopular economic policies, and an unpopular President.

Cleverly framing the issue in reactionary populism, Luntz's strategy pitted hard-working, tax-paying, "real Americans" against shiftless "illegals" looking for a free ride at the nations expense.

Of course with hindsight, we now know this strategy failed politically, polarizing and fracturing the Republican party. But Luntz's handiwork has had a lasting effect on national discourse and led to a level of societal toxicity that could have lasting effects well beyond his political machinations.

By December 2005, Congress passed the first in a series of "immigration reform" measures aimed at whipping up the electorate… the punitive, enforcement-only, Sensenbrenner Bill (HR4437). … a bill so vile it brought millions into the streets the following spring to oppose it.

In the following two years, three other major pieces "immigration reform" legislation have been proposed, two in the Senate, last years Kennedy-McCain Bill (s. 2611), and this years "Grand Compromise" (s.1639). With the reintroduction of the STRIVE ACT about to take place in the House, a third now joins them.

But each of these legislative efforts has been highly flawed. This in large part due to the work first done by Luntz in 2005. Having set the tone and timbre of the debate early on, every successive piece of immigration legislation in the last two years has moved further and further to the right.

In an attempt to find the "sweet spot" in Republican politics that would appease the restrictionist wing of the party and their followers, who have been the subjected to an unprecedented propaganda campaign, while still leaving enough concessions to make the business wing happy, every imaginable kind of "compromise" and concession has been put forward..

The list of compromise proposals is long. Touchbacks, triggers, more guestworkers, heavy fines, English-only, Z Visas, Y Visas, more walls, conditional status, the merit system, are but a few. All of them having no real purpose except to reconcile the two opposing factions within the Republican Party.

The Democrats have faired no better on this issue.

While almost universally accepting the notion of "comprehensive reform", what is meant by that catch-all term seems to vary greatly from one Democratic politician to the next. Very few have been willing to step beyond the confines of the debate as currently framed and propose the sweeping kind of reform called for.

Nothing is mentioned addressing the neo-liberal free-trade policies that have been the root cause of much of the inter-hemispheric migration taking place today.

None seems willing to counter the talking points of the extreme far-right that are clearly based on xenophobia and ethnocentrism.

None will step up and tie immigration reform to a broader policy of workers rights for all US workers, whether native or foreign-born.

None seem willing to close the loopholes in immigration policy that have allowed unscrupulous employers to game the system in regards to work visas and manipulate US labor markets to the detriment of both foreign and native-born workers in certain sectors.

They have forgotten the very roots of their party… A party built on the sweat and sacrifice of working people of all nation origins, races and creeds.

Now content to triangulate positions based upon some misguided belief of where the "magic middle" exists on any given issue, the Democrats have conceded the field to the opposition on immigration reform as just they have on many other important issues.


This lack of strong Progressive and Liberal voices has allowed for national polarization. As the debate has unfolded over the past few years, the bulk of the discussion has been dominated by voices from an increasingly unfriendly traditional media. From right-wing talk radio personalities to TV news commentators and pundits, a constant flow of anti-immigrant rhetoric has proliferated. The list of prominent anti-immigrant voices is long and a daily barrage of misinformation and propaganda from Lou Dobbs, Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and FOX news has managed to poison any meaningful national discussion.

Even in the "New Media," which has increasingly become dominated by a rapidly growing Progressive internet presence, strong pro-reform voices have not come to the forefront.

While Progressive bloggers have had exponential growth in both numbers and political influence over the past few years, the immigration reform community has not benefited from this explosive growth.

This in part is due to the very lack of cohesive message that plagues the movement in general.

Like the broader Democratic Party, Progressives and Reformers have been all too willing to accept an ever moving target, determined by those opposed to any sort of reform, when considering what immigration reform should and shouldn't look like.

Thus far the reform movement has yet to become any more than a loose confederation of groups and advocates, often with agendas at opposition to one another. The movement is yet to put forth a cohesive set of goals and expectations beyond the vague concept of "comprehensive reform".

In order for any large scale movement demanding reform to be effective, a firm set of unified goals and expectations must be set.

Rather than always reacting to what legislation has been presented to us, the movement must define a firm set of goals as to what true immigration reform should be, then take those goals and march with them. These goals, once set, should become the cornerstone on which meaningful reform is built and should be presented to our political leadership to become the bedrock on which policy is crafted.

The time is now for those who truly want to advance the cause of immigration reform to come together and begin the hard work of crafting just such policy.

Policies that will address what future immigration should encompass.

Policies that will ensure that not only the immediate concerns of those here today are addressed, but also the concerns of those who will follow in the future.

Policies that look at the global realities of how US economic and foreign policy decisions effect and contribution to worldwide migration.

Policies that will ensure that all workers, both US and foreign-born are treated with dignity and economic justice.

Unless we, as Progressives and reformers, begin this needed dialogue amongst ourselves and start the hard work of reaching consensus, will forever be playing catch-up behind the likes of Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan as they continue to frame the national debate with the words of Frank Luntz and the Republican spin machine.

9 comments:

Man Eegee said...

Warms my heart to read your words, Duke. Hope you're doing well.

Were you able to attend the NY gig earlier this week?

Laura said...

Hi Duke,

It's so great to read your words again. Lots of food for thought. Thanks,
Laura

Duke1676 said...

Hi Manny & Laura

It's nice to be back, thanks for the kind words and warm welcome.

Things just started to get a little too frenzied there for a while and I needed to step back and re-group.

But that said, I feel it's time to really start a new and more vigorous push for change.

I wasn't at the NYC gig but am anxiously awaiting a full report from those who were invited...it sounds like very exciting things are about to start happening.

and once again ...thanks so much for your warm words ...they really do mean more than you can know.

James said...

Just noticed you're back! Good to see your words once more. :-)

Duke1676 said...

thanks James

Dave said...

Welcome back, Duke. You were missed.

As for Luntz, what a disgustingly cynical POS this guy is. Almost everything he wrote is being parroted about on the blogs and message boards. I had no idea (but expected as much) just how orchestrated this has been.

Duke1676 said...

Thanks Dave,

It's funny how all the wingers think that this "outrage" they have is an expression of some sort of organic outpouring of discontent at the current state of immigration. They don't realize what pawns and tools they've been in a huge game of politics orchestrated out of think tanks and spin doctors in Washington.

The very words that come out of their mouths were concieved and written down years ago to make them think and say what they do.

When you read Luntz's handbook, then listen to the "man on the street speak his mind"...you realize just whose "mind" is really doing the talking.

janinsanfran said...

Haven't been here for awhile -- glad to read you taking on the big questions in this and subsequent posts.

Unity on migration issues has been hard to attain for as long as I've been around them because we've had "advocates" and "lobbyists" going in various directions -- and newcomer communities with their own very simple clear demands that nowhere intersect with the folks who are trying to work the system. Until some force gets that bridged, (Latino politicians?) we're not likely to be able to present a unified message and a workable strategy.

I'm standing by, looking for direction, ready to go.

Duke1676 said...

"I'm standing by, looking for direction, ready to go."

Yup, it sometimes feels like we all are ...