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:
Thursday, February 28, 2008
These have been heady times for those in the migrant-rights movement.
Friday, February 22, 2008
It could be that McCain's impending coronation has effectively neutralized the right-wing's effort to force its anti-immigrant positions down the throats of a reluctant electorate while emboldening the Democratic contenders … or it could have just been some political pandering aimed at the upcoming Texas primary. But during last night's CNN/Univision debate in Austin Texas, both candidates articulated positions on immigration and immigration reform with a clarity and forcefulness we have not seen in previous encounters.
This was a far cry from Hillary's backpedaling on driver's licenses back in November
During the first round of questioning, Univision's Jorge Ramos asked the candidates if they would put an end to immigration raids at homes and workplaces until meaningful reform was accomplished. He prefaced his question by pointing out that "the raids had generated a great deal of fear and anxiety in the Hispanic community and have divided the family of some of the 3 million U.S.-born children who have at least one undocumented parent."
Clinton, picking up that theme, answered that she would end most of the raids, adding "(that) when we see what's been happening, with literally babies being left with no one to take care of them, children coming home from school, no responsible adult left, that is not the America that I know. That is against American values. And it is a stark admission of failure by the federal government "
Mrs. Clinton added she would also to take up comprehensive reform within the first one hundred days of a new administration. A pledge similar to the one Mr.Obama has been touting a recently.
Obama later scored big with the Texas crowd when he said that ".. it is absolutely critical that we tone down the rhetoric when it comes to the immigration debate, because there has been an undertone that has been ugly. Oftentimes, it has been directed at the Hispanic community. We have seen hate crimes skyrocket in the wake of the immigration debate as it has been conducted in Washington, and that is unacceptable."
Obama also pointed out that while working towards comprehensive reform, "Something that we can do immediately that I think is very important is to pass the Dream Act, which allows children who through no fault of their own are here but have essentially grown up as Americans, allow them the opportunity for higher education"
This more muscular rhetoric on immigration is a far cry from the warnings and hand wringing we heard from party leaders earlier in the campaign.
Back before the self-immolation of the Republican Right on the pyre of nativism, Democratic leaders and strategists like Rahm Emanuel and the beltway boys at Democracy Corps and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner were warning all who would listen to avoid "the third rail of US politics" and adopt a "Republican-lite" strategy on immigration.
These prophets of doom, citing polling that pointed to an undercurrent of anti-immigrant sentiment among the prized undecided electorate, foretold of the party's imminent demise if they were to even breach the topic of meaningful reform.
But as demonstrated last night, not only are the party's two front-runners actively embracing comprehensive reform and a path to legalization, …the dreaded "amnesty" so feared as a campaign's death knell by the strategists … they have started to broaden the debate. Calling for the ending of immigration raids, enactment of the DREAM Act, an examination of US policies towards Mexico that foster migration, and even limiting the building of the much heralded border wall, are not proposals we would have heard two months ago from these candidates.
Perhaps they've figured out what we've known all along. That the vast majority of Americans do not favor the draconian measures the far-right is so enamored of, and instead want reform that is fair, practical, and humane. … or maybe Obama was right when he said this was the "silly season" when campaign rhetoric outpaces reality ….but we can certainly hope it is the former.
RAMOS: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH) Federal raids by immigration enforcement officials on homes and businesses have generated a great deal of fear and anxiety in the Hispanic community and have divided the family of some of the 3 million U.S.-born children who have at least one undocumented parent.
Would you consider stopping these raids once you take office until comprehensive immigration reform can be passed?
CLINTON: I would consider that, except in egregious situations where it would be appropriate to take the actions you're referring to.
But when we see what's been happening, with literally babies being left with no one to take care of them, children coming home from school, no responsible adult left, that is not the America that I know.
CLINTON: That is against American values. And it is...
And it is a stark admission of failure by the federal government. We need comprehensive immigration reform. I have been for this. I signed onto the first comprehensive bill back in 2004. I've been advocating for it: tougher, more secure borders, of course, but let's do it the right way, cracking down on employers, especially once we get to comprehensive immigration reform, who exploit undocumented workers and drive down wages for everyone else.
I'd like to see more federal help for communities like Austin and others like Laredo, where I was this morning, that absorb the health care, education, and law enforcement costs.
And I personally, as president, would work with our neighbors to the south, to help them create more jobs for their own people.
Finally, we need a path to legalization, to bring the immigrants out of the shadows, give them the conditions that we expect them to meet, paying a fine for coming here illegally, trying to pay back taxes, over time, and learning English.
If they had a committed a crime in our country or the country they came from, then they should be deported. But for everyone else, there must be a path to legalization. I would introduce that in the first 100 days of my presidency.
BROWN: Senator Obama, is your position the same as Hillary Clinton's?
OBAMA: There are a couple of things I would add. Comprehensive immigration reform is something that I have worked on extensively.
Two years ago, we were able to get a bill out of the Senate. I was one of the group of senators that helped to move it through, but it died in the House this year. Because it was used as a political football instead of a way of solving a problem, nothing happened.
And so there are a couple of things that I would just add to what Senator Clinton said.
Number one, it is absolutely critical that we tone down the rhetoric when it comes to the immigration debate, because there has been an undertone that has been ugly.
Oftentimes, it has been directed at the Hispanic community. We have seen hate crimes skyrocket in the wake of the immigration debate as it has been conducted in Washington, and that is unacceptable.
We are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants, and we can reconcile those two things. So we need comprehensive reform...
... we need comprehensive reform, and that means stronger border security. It means that we are cracking down on employers that are taking advantage of undocumented workers because they can't complain if they're not paid a minimum wage.
OBAMA: They can't complain if they're not getting overtime. Worker safety laws are not being observed.
We have to crack down on those employers, although we also have to make sure that we do it in a way that doesn't lead to people with Spanish surnames being discriminated against, so there's got to be a safeguard there.
We have to require that undocumented workers, who are provided a pathway to citizenship, not only learn English, pay back taxes and pay a significant fine, but also that they're going to the back of the line, so that they are not getting citizenship before those who have applied legally, which raises two last points.
Number one, it is important that we fix the legal immigration system, because right now we've got a backlog that means years for people to apply legally.
And what's worse is, we keep on increasing the fees, so that if you've got a hard working immigrant family, they've got to hire a lawyer; they've got to pay thousands of dollars in fees. They just can't afford it. And it's discriminatory against people who have good character, we should want in this country, but don't have the money. So we've got to fix that.
OBAMA: So we've got to fix that.
The second thing is, we have to improve our relationship with Mexico and work with the Mexican government so that their economy is producing jobs on that side of the border.
And the problem that we have...
The problem that we have is that we have had an administration that came in promising all sorts of leadership on creating a U.S.- Mexican relationship. And, frankly, President Bush dropped the ball. He has been so obsessed with Iraq that we have not seen the kinds of outreach and cooperative work that would ensure that the Mexican economy is working not just for the very wealthy in Mexico, but for all people. And that's as policy that I'm going to change when I'm president of the United States.
BROWN: All right, Senator Obama.
We're going to stay with this topic. I want to have John King ask another question.
Go ahead, John.
KING: I want to stay on the issue, but move to a controversial item that was not held up when the immigration debate collapsed in Washington, and that is the border fence.
KING: To many Americans, it is a simple question of sovereignty and security. America should be able to keep people out that it doesn't want in.
But, as you know in this state, especially if you go to the south of here, along the border, and in other border states, to many people it's a much more personal question. It could be a question of their livelihood. It could be a question of cross-border trade. It might be an issue to a rancher of property rights. It might be a simple question of whether someone can take a walk or a short drive to see their family members.
Senator, back in 2006, you voted for the construction of that fence. As you know, progress has been slow.
As president of the United States, would you commit tonight that you would finish the fence and speed up the construction, or do you think it's time for a president of the United States to raise his or her hand and say, "You know what? Wait a minute. Let's think about this again. Do we really want to do this?"
CLINTON: Well, I think both Senator Obama and I voted for that as part of the immigration debate.
CLINTON: And having been along the border for the last week or so -- in fact, last night I was at the University of Texas at Brownsville -- and this is how absurd this has become under the Bush administration. Because, you know, there is a smart way to protect our borders, and there is a dumb way to protect our borders.
And what I learned last night when I was there with Congressman Ortiz is that the University of Texas at Brownsville would have part of its campus cut off.
This is the kind of absurdity that we're getting from this administration. I know it because I've been fighting with them about the northern border. Their imposition of passports and other kinds of burdens are separating people from families, interfering with business and commerce, the movement of goods and people.
So what I've said is that I would say, wait a minute, we need to review this. There may be places where a physical barrier is appropriate.
I think when both of us voted for this, we were voting for the possibility that where it was appropriate and made sense, it would be considered. But as with so much, the Bush administration has gone off the deep end, and they are unfortunately coming up with a plan that I think is counterproductive.
CLINTON: So I would have a review. I would listen to the people who live along the border, who understand...
... what it is we need to be doing to protect our country.
BROWN: Let me go on, again -- John?
KING: Does that mean that you think your vote was wrong, or the implementation of it was wrong?
Because, as you know, when they first built the fence in the San Diego area, it only went so far. And what it did was it sopped the people coming straight up the path of where that was built, and they simply moved. And California's problem became Arizona's problem.
CLINTON: But, you know, John, there is -- there's a lot we've learned about technology and smart fencing. You know, there is technology that can be used instead of a physical barrier.
CLINTON: It requires us having enough personnel along the border so that people can be supervising a certain limited amount of space and will be able to be responsive in the event of people attempting to cross illegally.
I think that the way that the Bush administration is going about this, filing eminent domain actions against landowners and municipalities, makes no sense.
So what I have said is, yes, there are places when after a careful review, again listening to the people who live along the border, there may be limited places where it would work. But let's deploy more technology and personnel, instead of the physical barrier.
I frankly think that will work better and it will give us an opportunity to secure our borders without interfering with family relations, business relations, recreation and so much else that makes living along the border, you know, wonderful.
BROWN: All right.
CLINTON: And the people who live there need to have a president who understands it, will listen to them and be responsive.
BROWN: All right, Senator Clinton.
Senator Obama, go ahead please.
OBAMA: Well, this is an area where Senator Clinton and I almost entirely agree. I think that the key is to consult with local communities, whether it's on the commercial interests or the environmental stakes of creating any kind of barrier.
And the Bush administration is not real good at listening. That's not what they do well.
And so I will reverse that policy. As Senator Clinton indicated, there may be areas where it makes sense to have some fencing. But for the most part, having border patrolled, surveillance, deploying effective technology, that's going to be the better approach.
The one thing I do have to say, though, about this issue is, it is very important for us, I think, to deal with this problem in terms of thousands of -- hundreds of thousands of people coming over the borders on a regular basis if we want to also provide opportunity for the 12 million undocumented workers who are here.
OBAMA: Senator Clinton and I have both campaigned in places like Iowa and Ohio and my home state of Illinois, and I think that the American people want fairness, want justice. I think they recognize that the idea that you're going to deport 12 million people is ridiculous, that we're not going to be devoting all our law enforcement resources...
... to sending people back.
But what they do also want is some order to the process. And so, we're not going to be able to do these things in isolation. We're not going to be able to deal with the 12 million people who are living in the shadows and give them a way of getting out of the shadows if we don't also deal with the problem of this constant influx of undocumented workers.
And that's why I think comprehensive reform is so important. That's the kind of leadership that I've shown in the past; that's the kind of leadership that I'll show in the future.
One last point I want to make on the immigration issue because we may be moving to different topics: Something that we can do immediately that I think is very important is to pass the Dream Act, which allows children who through no fault of their own are here but have essentially grown up as Americans, allow them the opportunity for higher education.
OBAMA: I do not want two classes of citizens in this country.
I want everybody to prosper. That's going to be a top priority.