New Orleans One of the Obama pop-ups yesterday that was NOT in the news, probably for obvious and deliberate reasons, was President Obama’s drop by at a meeting between Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and an array of people who are strongly committed to comprehensive immigration reform from business, religion, labor, and immigrant rights. The meeting agenda did not specifically say, “let’s get together in order to tamp down the pressure for immigration reform now,” but it seems clear from talking to a number of people going in and out of the meeting that that was the real purpose and message of the event.
Napolitano has ignited sparks from reformers (I would have liked to have written “firestorm,” but it would have been a lie) for increasing the pressure on immigrant families, ignoring violations of human rights, and advancing rather than stopping the abuses of 287(g) which subcontracts la migra to local law “enforcement” types like the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona. This meeting was a “who’s who.” Representatives were there from the AFL-CIO, SEIU, HERE, UFW, CASA de Maryland, National Immigration Forum, the Center for Community Change, America’s Voices, the National Day Laborers’ Organizing Network, the National Council of La Raza, LULAC, and others, but also from Wal-Mart, IBM, McDonalds, the Chamber of Commerce, and other businesses.
Talking to people there seems to have been several takeaways from the meeting. One is that they are VERY sensitive to the problems with 287(g). The President specifically mentioned it, but he also said they were sticking with it. The gesture was a little like him saying, “…you have beautiful eyes,” and then popping his finger in your eye. Another by all of the White House folks, was essentially that, “…the President can NOT get this done.” I’m sure they added “without you,” but given the stunted capacity of the field operations for immigration reform and the atrophied “movement” for reform in recent years and what has turned out to be false and misplaced hopes that the White House could win this and “our” contribution could be handled in the beltway, this was sobering and bad news.
Given the messages of hate and polarization that we are seeing in the healthcare fight and the right mobilizations in many town halls, the real message of the meeting seemed to be that immigration reform has no real chance until late 2010, and without a huge surge from the base and a rekindling of the grassroots movement for real change here, it may have no chance at all.