New Orleans Eliseo Medina, a longtime labor organizer and colleague from the Farmworkers to CWA to the SEIU, and a lifelong immigration reform advocate, is living these days on the Washington Mall in a tent with a couple of others on an extended fast in hopes of triggering some pang of conscience from Speaker John Bohner and the Republican Congressional majority. Their response thus far has been typical, which is to say they have ignored him and then having worked so hard at that, they recessed for a long break over the holiday. From Eliseo’s tent to the halls of Congress is a short walk or in his increasingly weakened state, a long crawl, but in some ways he’s living on another planet and has certainly come from another world, and I don’t mean Mexico, I mean a place where compassion and justice for 11.7 million stateless immigrants in the USA would have meaning.
Meanwhile polls indicate that way more than 60% of Americans favor not just immigration reform, but a path to citizenship. Only 14% want immigrants to live and work here permanently without such rights. The largest numbers surveyed believe that the immigration system is totally broken.
Yet, regardless of the cry for justice supported by the vast majority, nothing is happening because there is so little consensus sitting alongside the devil and drowning in the details. In such a situation leadership is required and good faith efforts to reach consensus are needed, and that is nowhere in sight. President Obama is left only with a bully pulpit these days, and he may be moving the poll numbers for the next election, but he is not swaying any votes in Congress. The disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act doubtlessly would be thrown in the face of any Administration proposal for “solving” immigration reform.
It is a small wonder that many advocates are now recommending a piecemeal approach for reform in order to give people something now, rather than continue to endure for an untold number of additional years the current stalemate. The mishmash of opinions indicated by the survey also indicates there is softness in the support for reform. People want something to happen, but they certainly hardly care if the path is long or short, straight or crooked.
Eliseo and others are witnessing and deserve support, but somehow we have to show the way for real breakthrough since the way forward isn’t going to be bushwhacked through this maze by anyone else.