U.S. Immigration Reform: December 2010 Archives

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.

Thumbnail image for UrielIt's been hard for me to set fingers to keyboard to organize my thoughts about yesterday's Senate vote blocking the DREAM Act. I have a lot of thoughts and emotions swirling around inside right now. Even before the vote, I felt stymied--anxious about the bill's prospects, angry at the obstinate ignorance displayed by opponents, and frustrated at my own feelings of powerlessness.

If there is any cause for optimism in this dark moment, it is that the DREAM movement has now come into its own. Dreamers will never again be token poster children held up to support someone else's agenda--the enforcement first, legalization later agenda unsuccessfully promoted by President Obama, Democrats, and national advocacy groups.

That agenda failed, the plans that others made for Dreamers failed, and at the end of it all, advocacy groups and politicians jumped on board the DREAM Act bandwagon because it was the only legislative vehicle that was moving, the only one that had even left the factory. And the primary reason the DREAM Act got as far as it did this legislative session was because of the activism of Dreamers: the hunger strikes, the 1500-mile Trail of Dreams march, the acts of civil disobedience targeting key legislators, the Dreamers coming out to journalists, and hundreds of other actions around the country planned and executed by Dreamers themselves.

As we look for a way forward, it is important to think about what has worked and hasn't worked so far. With this in mind, I want to address a few key groups.

To my fellow pro-migrant allies and advocates: