Immigration Bill Up and Falling

luis-gutierrezNew Orleans Over the last 15 months I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with local and national efforts committed to winning comprehensive immigration reform.  I know how urgently and desperately felt the need for real reform and real solutions are for 12 million undocumented workers and their families.  I have been in meetings with the outstanding and firebrand Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez who finally introduced a bill whose initials read:  C.I.R.A.S.A.P. – essentially comprehensive immigration reform now.  But, saying all that and holding my breath I can already feel the bill falling even as it is put up on the calendar.

The story was buried in the Times at the bottom of page 26 in the 2nd “news” section, and I couldn’t even find it in the Wall Street Journal – if in fact it was there.  And, maybe that was the good news, because the bill was already bleeding badly from the expected cuts:  “too liberal to win” according to “Democrats in the Senate;” no plan for “future flow” of labor which is a business/political cause in some Republican and Democratic quarters; and in the deepest gash the reporter Randal Archibold writes “the bill was declared dead on arrival by some Republicans – and, privately, by some Democrats – and denounced as impractical….”  None of this is good news for the debut of our “best foot forward.”

Gutierrez’s argued that the bill “reflected a growing impatience with the pace of immigration change among a coalition of Democratic lawmakers, immigrant advocates, and labor and religious groups.”  Certainly, it is not a new tactic to introduce a bill that might express the aspirations of a social movement and give the movement something to put on its flag to rally around.  Unfortunately, that does not necessarily appear to be the strategy here.  The bill is not a best statement of aspirations and hopes, because it already includes many of the benchmarks and obstacles frequently expressed to punish immigrants already in the US and others that are designed to repress immigrants.  This bill seems to be the point of the campaign, rather than a tool for building the campaign.  If that is the case the tactic overwhelms the strategy and threatens its goals of reform.  I worry that this bill will now be met by tactical offerings from the right that are also force the agenda for punishment that reformers are not yet prepared to meet.

The impatience for reform is real.  That impatience needs to be voiced from the immigrant community itself, so that it is then echoed by the employers who depend on such workers to their elected representatives as part of the demand for change.  A bill needs to help shape the cry rising up from the barrios and workplaces for justice and reform.   The field needs to dominate the beltway for there to be any hope of winning any semblance of real reform for immigrants (look at health care and say no more!).

Representative Gutierrez has been a warrior for reform, but he fights best as the sharp point of a social movement, not as a lone gladiator going out in the arena even if there is a cheering section among some part of the crowd.   I hope this bill is a standard that we can raise in the battle, but we need to not be confused about how much remains undone in the field while this small statement is made in Washington.

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