Recently in U.S. Immigration Reform Category

With his announcement Saturday morning that he would delay any administrative reform measures on immigration until after the 2014 midterm elections, President Obama has once again refused to stop or slow the mass deportations which have become the hallmark of his administration. He and his supporters claim he will take action after the elections. I don't know why anyone would believe that at this point. Whatever pressure the president is facing now to delay action would only increase were the Democrats to lose the Senate, as is now predicted by most observers. If Obama's poll numbers would crater if he implemented administrative reforms, dragging down the entire party, Democrats in Congress could persuade him to continue forestalling reforms after the elections. There will always be something more urgent on the president's agenda, some new reason to excuse another broken promise in November.

After the 2012 general election, I had begun to subscribe to the Democrats' prediction that demographic changes in the electorate would inevitably lead to broad legalization relatively soon. Given the demands of the two-year election cycle, House Republicans might succumb to the temptation to demagogue immigrants. But more reasonable voices in the GOP would prevail as the party looked ahead to 2016 and the prospect of failing to win the White House and the Senate. I read with interest Tim Dickinson's analysis of Karl Rove's political strategy in 2010 of winning state legislatures in order to reshape House districts more favorably for Republicans. Dickinson and others predicted that the strategy of spreading GOP voters among a larger number of districts--turning more districts red, but a lighter shade of red--would eventually backfire as the proportion of Democratic voters grew and turned the districts blue again. However, Nate Cohn this weekend presented a rebuttal to this theory, arguing that the concentration of Democratic voters in urban districts, combined with the increased polarization of the electorate, provides Republicans with a structural advantage in the House that could forestall demographic benefits to Democrats for many years. The influx of refugee children from Central America inflamed xenophobic elements in the GOP and made transparent the flimsiness of the Democrats' commitment to immigrant rights. Immigration policy, which Democrats had believed was a strength, was now seen as a threat to the Democratic policy agenda and control of the Senate.

I'm going to start publishing lawmaker's statements here on Citizen Orange more regularly. I use SCOUT from the Sunlight Foundation to follow what lawmakers say about the DREAM Act, and am going to start doing so for "immigration" more broadly.

Rep. Yvette Clarke, a Democrat congresswoman from New York's 9th district had this to say about what she thinks priorities should be for the 113th Congress:
UPDATE: I just spoke with a member of the Immigrant Youth Justice League who has that I identify her only by her first name, Cindy. From what little I was able to speak to her, it sounds to me like she personifies what I think the story of this year is going to be as undocumented youth who have won some small measure of safety through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program work to protect friends and family around them. Cindy is eligible for a regular driver's license after receiving deferred action under DACA, but her parents and other members of her community are not, and that's why she's in Springfield fighting for the passage of S.B. 957.

According to IYJL the bill just passed out of committee but there about 5 votes short in the House. Speaker Madigan, as far as I can tell has not yet publicly said whether he publicly supports or opposes the bill. Cindy said to keep pushing Speaker Madigan, and if you live in Illinois to contact your legislators. If your legislator already supports the bill, ask them to move other legislators.

ORIGINAL POST: It looks like it's going to come down to the wire, but there's a real chance that 250,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois could be able to drive without fear coming out of this legislative session in Illinois.

This is bigger than Illinois. It could reverse a national trend that the pro-migrant movement has been on the losing side of for some time.


"#TRUTH Nuestra gente, truth" are the words these captioned photos were described with as I first came across it on the "Latino Rebels" facebook page. I'm not sure where these photos or captions originated (please say so in the comments if you know), but as I write this the Latino Rebels post has 30,749 likes and 27,505 shares.

Until I find the genius who put these two photos together with that caption, I'll comment on how much #truth there is here.
While I hold the Obama administration responsible for the increasing violence being done to migrant communities (exemplified by the last post I just wrote), it's important to be clear who our friends and enemies are. There is a good contingent of pro-migrant Democrats in Congress that have stood with our communities through these difficult times.

I just received a press release from the office of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL-4) which I will paste below that lists some of the pro-migrant Democrats that are standing with us, and also point to a threat coming from the number two enemy of migrant communities, U.S. Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX-21). With everything that's happening it's tempting to ignore it, but I know for a fact that this is precisely the sort of bill that the Obama administration fears if they provide our community with any sort of administrative relief.

obama shaking hands.jpg

Some readers may wonder why I have spent so much time writing about Barack Obama and his action or inaction on immigration reform.

For example:

Obama Resumes Deportations to Ravaged Haiti
Obama and Fox News Latino Can't Have It Both Ways On Immigration
Pedro Gutierrez Asks President Obama to Defer His Deportation
Obama Praises DREAM Act While Deporting Dreamers
Obama: Deporting Immigrants So Republicans Don't Have To

And I'm not the only one:

Buyer Beware! Obama: The Deporter and Job Killer in Chief
"Obama is not the answer because he IS the problem"
Man the Deportations: Full Speed Ahead!
Halfway Through Term, Obama Still Hasn't Earned His Nobel Prize
Heroes and Zeroes of Immigrant Rights in 2010

... and many others.

But isn't the president a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act?

Didn't his Department of Justice sue Arizona to prevent implementation of the SB1070 racial profiling law?

Wouldn't it make more sense to spend time and energy pushing Republicans to compromise, to punish them politically for opposing comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act? Hasn't the real struggle moved away from federal legislation to the state and local level?

I think these are questions worth discussing, but I still believe the best national focus for action to achieve immigrant rights objectives is President Obama.

Each national politician who voted against the DREAM Act should be held accountable for betraying migrant youth. And there is a lot of work--both on offense and on defense--to be done on the state and local level.

But the immigrant rights movement should not neglect federal politicians or the 2012 presidential campaign, which has already begun.

First, Obama can be moved politically. The GOP's incentives are more mixed, and on balance run against supporting fair immigration reform.

Obama pensive.jpg

The failure of the Democrats to pass the DREAM Act in December prompted the Washington Post and Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) to declare President Obama's immigration reform strategy a failure. Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum explained the "pickle of epic proportions" that the administration was in:

Republicans would now cry foul if the administration eased up on deportations, he said. But Latinos are losing patience with a strategy that has led to pain without gain for their communities.

Nevertheless, according to the Post, the Obama administration is doubling down on its "enforcement-first" strategy, having "no plans to pull back on enforcement just because Republicans are unlikely to support a bipartisan overhaul of immigration laws in the next two years."

How did the Democrats' immigration reform strategy fail so thoroughly? What went wrong? And why is President Obama still committed to a failed strategy?

I haven't seen as much soul-searching, discussion, and fingerpointing within the immigrant rights movement as I expected after the 111th Congress ended with no measurable progress for the immigrant community in the U.S. Democrats spent the last two years claiming to be champions of the immigrant community but in the end accomplished nothing despite holding large majorities in both houses of Congress.

Since the DREAM Act was defeated in December, I haven't heard anything new from President Obama.

I haven't heard anything from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

From the Democratic leadership in the Senate.

From the Reform Immigration for America campaign.

From America's Voice or the National Immigration Forum.

From AILA.

Maybe I haven't been paying attention. Or maybe I haven't heard much that is new, something that doesn't replicate the failed strategy of the past several years.

I know some have been taking time to decompress after a fierce extended campaign. I know others have been depressed and unsure of what comes next.

I have to accept accountability for the current situation as well ... I've been working towards the goal of legalization for a few years with as little success as anyone else. And drifting from necessary introspection to counterproductive acrimony is a real danger.

But the silence right now is deafening.

Whatever happens going forward, the immigrant rights movement can't repeat the mistakes of the past several years. I hope that this silence from those who formulated and implemented the comprehensive immigration reform strategy represents a tacit acknowledgment that something went badly wrong. And that now it is time to listen to new voices and new ideas. I hope that conditions now are favorable for more vibrant discussions, more brainstorming, and more openness to new strategies.

I hope there is more space in this movement now for undocumented leadership, for leaders whose incentives, information, and experiences are more closely aligned with undocumented communities than current leadership. Leaders who would personally benefit from legalization will almost always fight harder than leaders who wouldn't.

I'll be writing more about this soon, but for now one of the few in-depth attempts to debrief I've seen so far in the new year is this one from Daniel Altschuler. Another is my co-blogger Kyle's recent post on priorities for 2011. Check them out, share your thoughts in comments here or at these posts. Write your own reaction and post the link in comments or email it to me or Kyle, or let us know about pieces you liked that we might have missed. Let's start talking.

I've seen two general reactions from pro-migrant bloggers, Tweeters, Dreamers, and politicos online since the DREAM Act was blocked in the Senate last week by anti-immigrant politicians.

One group believes the vote highlighted the fundamental divide between Democrats and Republicans on immigration policy. On this reading, Democrats are good and fight for the immigrant community, while Republicans are bad and fight to deport immigrants. Democrats want to enact legislation to bring immigrants out of the shadows, while Republicans prefer the status quo of early morning home raids, photos of Latinos in shackles and orange jumpsuits, and small children crying because their parents have been hauled off to the deportation gulag. President Obama, as the leader of the Democratic Party, wants immigrants to succeed and wants to legalize undocumented immigrants. Proponents of this view believe any attempt to add complexity to this narrative risks muddying the political calculus. You need more Democrats in office in order to pass immigration reform, and to do that, voters must reward Democrats and punish Republicans. Keep it simple or risk defeat.

The second group believes that both major parties share blame for terrorizing immigrant communities and keeping families in a legal twilight. True, the Republican party has been taken over by nativists and has turned its back on the growing Latino electorate. But Democrats never made any significant push to pass pro-migrant legislation while they held large majorities in both houses of Congress; instead, they snuck in votes on the DREAM Act only as the legislative session wound down. Meanwhile, a $600 million border enforcement bill breezed through Congress with strong support from both parties. Democrats in Congress never even introduced the comprehensive immigration reform bill they had long promised the community, instead engaging in a drawn-out procedural sleight of hand designed to fool constituents into thinking something was happening. Key Democrats voted against the DREAM Act in the Senate, dooming it for the foreseeable future. Democratic leadership never made passage of the bill a priority, never engaging in the armtwisting and horsetrading that led to success on other bills. President Obama directed ICE to deport immigrants in record numbers in what was either a futile effort to win Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform or a cynical strategy to keep nativists off his back so other policy priorities could move forward.

I am glad that Dreamers, through tough organizing and advocacy, were able to push Congress to at least vote on an immigration bill so individual politicians could be held accountable to voters. But I fall into the second school of thought on the partisan question. If Democrats want to be known as the pro-migrant political party, they have to actually be the pro-migrant party. Words matter less than actions.

True allies wouldn't target immigrant communities the way Democrats in Congress and the White House have done since Obama came into office. Another reason to make sure Democrats are real allies is because otherwise, they act as a massive clog to action.

When Democrats get the same credit for not doing anything to change the status quo as they would for actually passing laws, they are likely to do nothing because of:

The reactions this week by mainstream progressives to the Senate's failure to move the DREAM Act forward on Saturday shed light on the motivations of different groups in speaking out about this issue.

Markos Moulitsas' immediate reaction was to condemn Senator Jon Tester for being "morally bankrupt" and an "asshole" and "the Democrat I will most be happy to see go down in defeat" in 2012.

Markos was a big supporter of Tester, who raised a good chunk of money from the Netroots to win in a close election in 2006. Tester will have a tough campaign in 2012, and it just got a whole lot tougher by making a personal enemy out of one of the progressive blogosphere's most influential voices. This was a response likely to have some impact given the target and Markos's history of support for Tester. It was an effective response because Markos actually seems to care whether the DREAM Act passes or fails.

On the other hand, Organizing For America's reaction was to email supporters to ask them to call John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and tell them "to stop playing politics with immigration reform."

This is not likely to be an effective response. The tactic looks about as well-conceived as the DSCC's cunning plan during the Minnesota Senate recount last year to ask Al Franken supporters to sign a petition to his opponent Norm Coleman to concede the election to Franken, one of Adam Green's "Profiles in Bad Online Organizing."

OFA's response has much in common with the Democrats' broader strategy for passing comprehensive immigration reform--both are designed to promote the appearance of activity rather than to achieve any concrete policy objective. The thing is, these strategies can easily backfire. No one likes a fake friend, and it is easy enough to spot someone who is just going through the motions. OFA does itself no favors by angling for the Latino vote in such a transparently cynical way.

Just as President Obama does himself no favors by perpetually renewing his commitment to immigration reform while ratcheting deportations to historic highs.

How uninformed does he think voters are?

Wayne Cornelius's take on the failure of the Obama immigration strategy was on point:

The larger problem is that the entire Obama immigration policy strategy was based on a high-risk gamble that winning credibility on border and interior enforcement among members of Congress would buy the political space needed to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

This strategy was fundamentally misconceived because Republicans in Congress have found tough immigration stances to be reliably effective in mobilizing their base, and because the Great Recession heightened public anxiety and anger about immigration.

Why would you intentionally adopt immigration policies--like the abominable racial profiling Secure Communities and 287g programs--that energize your opponents' base unless you were profoundly detached from the affected communities?

Cornelius continues:

The Obama administration has continued the Bush II-era border fortification project and also significantly toughened interior enforcement, pushing spending on all forms of immigration enforcement to unprecedented levels. But with the failure of the Dream Act, and the negligible probability of enacting any larger legalization program in the next Congress, President Obama is left with nothing but the stick.

His immigration legacy may well turn out to be a step-level increase in immigration enforcement and spending, with no progress on anything unrelated to pursuing the undocumented - even high-achieving students brought to this country as children. To those of us who worked hard in his presidential campaign, that is a bitter pill.

It's also not a smart strategy if you want people who support pro-migrant immigration policy to vote for you.

So far, it looks like Obama cares less about winning over those voters than he does about not pissing off nativist Tea Party voters. And as long as he has groups like OFA helping him carry out this misguided strategy, he is unlikely to change course.

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