“Having written about how the immigrants rights movement was built, and then exploded onto the public stage in 2006, the reassembling of this movement in Washington DC next Sunday is significant. It means that many of the nation’s most strategic organizers from diverse fields — labor, immigrant rights, faith-based activism — are again working in concert to protect the over 10 million undocumented immigrants who face deportation and the break-up of their families due to the government’s failure to legalize their status.
And while the march sends a powerful message, [Gabe] Gonzalez and key organizers know that even more important is what happens afterward.
The New Immigrant Rights Campaign
Following the march, activists plan to turn out in large numbers to the Town Hall meetings that congress members will hold during the two week recess starting March 29. The traditional media gave massive coverage to Tea Party members attending town halls last August, and should be under pressure to provide something close to that coverage for the immigrant rights activism at these upcoming events.
On April 10, there will be an immigrant rights rally in Las Vegas with Senator Reid. Reid knows his re-election depends on massive Latino turnout in November, and immigrant rights advocates are sending a message that they will mobilize for him provided he provides leadership on legalization.
Other rallies are also planned, but the chief focus will be on pressuring legislators to support legislation that activists now expect to be introduced in April. The key issue that divided progressives in the past — the treatment of guest worker programs — is likely to be resolved through various potential compromises, including the possible appointment of an independent commission to regulate such programs.
Because the groups aligned with the CCC-spawned “Fair Immigration Reform Movement” have weaker ties to the Democratic Party than do some of the key health care advocacy groups, the upcoming campaign will not hesitate to publicly criticize wavering Democrats. Gonzalez has already made it clear that “we expect the Democratic leadership to act as leaders and hold their Party’s votes,” and said New York Senator Chuck Schumer — who would be the lead Democratic Senator on the immigration bill — has “got the ball and he’s got to get off the dime.”
The Politics of Reform
Both President Obama and activists recognize that immigration legislation requires some Republican support in the Senate. This is not as impossible as it seems: recall that John McCain once co-sponsored a legalization bill, and Maine’s two Republican Senators, along with Lindsey Graham (SC), Judd Gregg (NH), Scott Brown (MA) and George Voinovich (OH) are potential yes votes.
Facing a primary challenge from a right-wing former Congressmember whose anti-immigrant attacks cost him his seat in 2006, McCain no longer supports legalization. But a grassroots pressure campaign that includes religious groups could potentially sway enough Republican Senators to avoid a filibuster, and Reid can use his clout to prevent any Democrat from joining a filibuster, even if they eventually vote against the bill.
So comprehensive immigration reform that offers a feasible path to legalization remains winnable this year. And for President Obama and other Democrats looking to fulfill their 2008 campaign promises to Latino voters, moving the legislation as far as it can go is essential.
This means requiring Republicans to actually take to the floor and spend day and night on the filibuster, clearly exposing GOP obstructionism — rather than the Democrats’ betrayal — as the cause of legislative inaction. Republicans have paid a steep political price for opposing legalization, and with key Senate contests upcoming in Colorado, Nevada, and Florida, and other states where Latino voters could prove the difference, Republican Senators may want to avoid a high-profile opposition strategy that galvanizes Latinos to come out and vote against them.
In a recent speech on health care reform, President Obama countered calls for delay by stating, “If not now, when?” The same argument applies to comprehensive immigration reform, which is why activists are mounting this unprecedented grassroots campaign to win legalization for millions of families this year.
Look for Randy’s piece in the upcoming issue of Social Policy magazine.