Thursday, February 28, 2008

Time for a Reality Check

These have been heady times for those in the migrant-rights movement.

Starting back in November with the failure of anti-immigrant campaigns to resonate with the electorate, an apparent sea change was assumed to be taking place. Much ink and many pixels were expended speculating on the presumed death of the "immigration issue" as a motivating force in the US political scene.

From the left, the progressive blogosphere finally found the courage to voice pro-immigrant positions after nearly two years of bowing to the conventional wisdom coming out of Washington that immigration was a "third rail" not to be touched.

From the right, pundits and the chattering classes warned that to continue stoking the flames of anti-immigrant sentiments was like beating the proverbial dead horse, and would yield no rewards.

Over the following months things looked even brighter.

After starting a presidential campaign where each candidate tried their best to "out Tancredo, Tancredo" on immigration matters, one by one the Republican contenders who put their eggs in the anti-immigrant basket fell by the wayside. In the end, the only three standing were the party's only bona fide pro-immigrant candidate, and two candidates whose recent conversion to the anti-immigrant camp was questionable at best. With McCain's presumptive triumph, even Huckabee's and Romney's road to Damascus conversion to Tancredoism seems to have hurt them far more than it helped.

On the Democratic side, the top contenders were quick to finally pick up on these subtle cues - once it became obvious to even the least politically savvy that they need not fear the immigration boogieman.

To his credit, Mr. Obama was early to the pro-migrant party, and supported driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants even as his opponent waffled and tried to triangulate her position due to the nagging "third rail" fear that so haunted the DLC. He also came out early and pledged to take up comprehensive reform within the first one hundred days of his administration and voiced strong support for the DREAM Act. But lately, even the ever cautious Mrs. Clinton has spoken out against immigration raids, and promised to curtail them, voiced tepid disapproval of the great wall project, and vowed to join Obama's pledge to give the nation real reform within one hundred days of taking office.

All of this has been music to the ears of those in the pro-migrant movement.

In both the tradition media and blogtopia, pro-migrant voices have started to break through.

To varying degrees, both NCLR's Janet Murguia and "Democracy Now's" Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez managed to issue live smack-downs on anti-immigrant powerhouse, Lou Dobb ( In Murguia's case, on Lou's own show). They called him out not only for his misleading and unbalanced presentation of the issue, but also his embrace of some of the most virulent racists engaged in the anti-immigrant movement. If this was not clear evidence that David could smite the anti-immigrant Goliath …. nothing was.

On the web, pro-migrant, Latino, and human-rights blogs and web sites are proliferating and finally gaining long deserved attention and recognition. Outreach and cooperation between the traditional pro-immigrant activist organizations has reached a near fever pitch as they attempt to put together the large-scale, organized, effort that will be essential in moving meaningful reform in the new, more immigrant-friendly, atmosphere all anticipate is just around the corner.

At least that's what we've all been telling each other for the last few months

But just today, once again reality strikes us in the face:

House OKs seizing vehicles from illegal immigrants

A bill that would allow police to seize cars from illegal immigrants was approved by the House Thursday.

Bill sponsor Rep. James Mills (R-Gainesville) repeatedly told House members Thursday the measure would protect Georgia citizens from the "epidemic" of illegal immigration. "The state of Georgia's door is being kicked down," Mills said. Immigrants are coming from "Iraq, Iran, Irania(sic), Jordan. We don't know where they're from," Mills said.

The measure passed 104 to 51, and will move to the Senate for consideration.

The bill would allow police to seize any vehicle involved in a traffic violation or accident if it's driven by an illegal immigrant. That includes rented and leased vehicles if the owner knew, or should have known, the driver was an illegal immigrant. It also includes bank-owned cars if the interest-holder actually knew the driver was an illegal immigrant.

The bill prompted a healthy floor debate. Some legislators asked how police would be able to determine whether a driver was an illegal immigrant during a traffic stop. Some wondered if it would create an atmosphere for racial profiling of drivers who police think might be illegal immigrants.

The legislation is part of a package of about 10 Republican proposals introduced this legislative session aimed at discouraging illegal immigration in Georgia.


Week after week - month after month - states and municipalities around the country take up similar anti-immigrant measures. And with each one passed, the lives of millions of people are changed - undocumented migrants, legal residents, and anyone else who just happens to look "foreign" or rolls their r's just a little too prominently when stopped at a traffic stop, applies for a job, or tries to rent an apartment.

"The legislation is part of a package of about 10 Republican proposals introduced this legislative session aimed at discouraging illegal immigration in Georgia."

And herein lays the problem.

In some ways we have deluded ourselves.

By focusing on what seems to be the "big picture" of the failure of anti-immigrant policies on the national stage, we have lost sight of the most important fact.

As the late Tip O'Neil pointed out …All politics is local….and when it comes to immigration and migrant issues, it's on the local level that much of this battle will need to be fought.

Yet, as a new study shows, it is not the economics or demographics of a given state or city that will determine how rabidly anti-immigrant it's laws and ordinances will be …. It's what political party controls it.

Our analysis suggests that the restrictionist responses of local governments to undocumented immigration is largely unrelated to demographic pressures—whether it be the growth of recent immigrants, or the proportion of Spanish-dominant households. They are also unrelated to the political empowerment of Latinos, as places with large proportions of Latino residents and citizens are no more or no less likely to propose legislation whether it be restrictionist or pro-immigrant. Instead, we find that political factors are more important, most notably partisan composition and the politicization of national immigration reform legislation at the local level.

…One of the strongest explanations for restrictionist versus “pro-immigrant” proposals is the proportion of Republicans and Democrats in the county. Controlling for demographic characteristics, Republican areas are twice as likely to propose restrictionist ordinances, and half as likely to propose “pro-immigrant” ones.

Even stronger effects can be found for the actual passage of such legislation. Other factors, such as the growth of the Latino population and the size of linguistically-isolated Spanish-speaking households, were not associated with a greater likelihood of proposing or passing restrictionist legislation. Thus, demographic factors are not as important as political factors in accounting for ordinances passed by local governments related to unauthorized immigration, either pro or con.

Cities in Republican areas are about twice as likely as those in Democratic areas to propose restrictionist legislation, and four times as likely to have passed such measures. On the passage of pro-immigrant legislation, Republican areas are about half as likely to consider or pass such measures (another way to say this is that Democrat areas are about twice as likely as Republican areas to consider and pass pro-immigrant measures).

Immigration Policies Go Local: The Varying Responses Of Local Governments To Undocumented Immigration

So while we have been working hard to change the hearts and minds of the US public, trying to counter the lies and misinformation proliferated by the anti-immigrant right, it comes down to mere politics as to whether the lives of millions are better or worse.

Of course, on the grand scale, we've always known the true enemy.

From October of 2005 when Frank Luntz first published "Respect for the Law & Economic Fairness: Illegal Immigration Prevention" and laid down the Republican battle plan for its anti-immigrant campaign, the handwriting's been on the wall.

This has always been a debate rooted in political machinations and calculations. It plays upon the fear, racism and bigotry that permeate the US collective psyche …but it's not organic, springing from the roots of bigotry and discontent …but rather it's been manufactured and nurtured by one political party to be used as a weapon against the other by feeding upon the worst instincts of the American people and appealing to their inner demons rather than better angles.

Less than two years after Luntz's blueprint was published, the plan was in full effect.

As of July 2, 2007, no fewer than 1404 pieces of legislation related to immigrants and immigration had been introduced among the 50 state legislatures. Of these bills, 182 bills became law in 43 states. Four bills have been vetoed by the Governor.

State legislators have introduced roughly two and a half times more bills in 2007 than in 2006. The number of enactments from 2006 (84) has more than doubled to 170 in 2007.

Several states are still in session so there could be additional legislation related to immigrants later this year.


Yet for many of us, the disappointments and disillusionment with politics as usual have prevented us from recognizing this clear red/blue divide on this issue. Surely, the Democratic Party' own inability to seize the moral high ground on this issue has not made it easy to see the clear lines of demarcation. Additionally, red state Dems like Heath Shuler, who so readily work in the anti-immigrant camp, cloud the distinctions.

But, when taken as whole … the path forward is clear.

If the pro-migrant movement is to accomplish anything in the long-term, it must start to address the anti-immigrant movement at the local as well as the national level.

We cannot be satisfied by what appears to be progress on the national stage. We can't be satisfied with the apparent growth of a fledgling pro-migrant ground swell. We can't be content with our own efforts to build a movement, or mobilize or give voice to the Latino community, or engage labor, or reach out to progressives. We must start to truly put together a real new majority, a majority made up of all those groups and so many more.

We need a new majority that can take over the statehouses, city councils, and mayors offices across this country, and not just replace the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, or Congress. We need a new majority that can reclaim the liberal, humanitarian ideals that once marked the Democratic Party … take it over, and then drag it, screaming and kicking, into a new 21st century.

Because if we don't ...we'll just get more of this:


laura said...

Thank you Duke ! As always - hugely important thoughts and facts.

Do you think campaigning for pro-immigration city ordinances is useful ? I do, but am interested in your perspective.

Duke1676 said...

I difinitely think pro-migrant ordinances are essential. They and only help people but send a powerfull message out that the right-wing immigration policies are not universally accepted. In fact the study pointed out that pro-migrant legislation outnumbered anti...but you'll never hear that in the media.

janinsanfran said...

I think that's the most important piece of pro-migrant writing I've seen in a long time. Haven't been around for awhile (working). Thanks for giving me a very useable perspective on the current moment.

Duke1676 said...

Thanks Jan...good to see you.

It really is amazing how pervasive these local anti-immigrant initiatives have become. Unfortunately we just don't have the kind of organizational structure in place to fight this trend.

Thankfully the majority of these efforts fail (and those that pass are often overturned by the courts) ...But they still say volumes about how much work needs to be done.