San Pedro Sula There was a strange meeting hosted by President Obama and some administration officials at the White House this week for a small group of immigration reform advocates including Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum, Eliseo Medina of SEIU, the head of the National Council of La Raza, and a couple of others, surprisingly even a representative of the Florida DREAM folks. Emerging from the meeting various people were interviewed and all of the statements looked like thy had just been to an old Democratic Party club meeting planning for the next election, rather than honing strategy around the prospects of reform, no matter how narrow. There was talk of the President making a speech about the importance of immigration reform, and generally all of the interviews I read seemed to be singing from the same hymnal and the stanzas focused on bashing the Republicans.
God knows they probably deserve it on this score and so many others, but the Democrats have hardly showered themselves with praise from the President through the Congress for the ways they have equally pandered to the worst impulses around immigration fears and in some cases xenophobia and old school racism in the shallow debates thus far about immigration reform.
Talking to people knowledgeable about the meeting, most of the participants seemed to feel that they had been brought in to the White House by the President for a close inspection of the woodshed. Seems that for an hour he read the “reformers” the riot act about how they needed to stop pushing the Democrats and start bashing the Republicans because they had not carried their weight at all in the President’s view and the Democrats were heads taller than the Republicans in their steadfastness for reform. Implicit in the President’s sudden affection for bringing forward the immigration issue now though has to be his belief, and the Party’s, that it is a good wedge issue for the Democrats in the mid-term election, especially with close contests at stake in the southwest like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s rough race in Nevada.
Admittedly, the reformers strategy has been weak and beltway-centric and all admonitions to bring the fight into home turf and vulnerable, battleground districts where a movement could build and we could prove that we could punish and win, have been rejected, and too often even obvious engagements like Arizona, first with Arpaio and now with SB 1070, have seemed to win support from funders and national efforts weakly and almost with fingers holding noses near the ground. But, even saying that, it hardly justifies a free ride for the Democrats who have run from the issue as well and under Obama and Secretary Napolitano have been enforcement firsters, reformers whenever folk.
The midterm elections are important in keeping reform efforts alive in many areas, granted Mr. President, but for immigration reform to become a reality it has to win as a moral issue, not simply a matter of party politics. All of these efforts are going to be setback if the Democrats from the top on down simply try to insert the issue as a wedge with or without the help of the reformers, and still have no plan for how to make reform a reality.