Slim & None for Immigration Reform

Immigration Reform

march_for_america2Dallas Organizers involved in immigration reform were talking throughout the week about what strategy and tactics they could devise to have a chance to win real reform in 2010.  It’s probably the wrong question and with any frankness no one would like the answer since the odds are so improbable for any real reform in 2010 and possibly for years after that unless….

The imponderable would lie in fanning the embers of a real movement still burning from place to place, scaling that work, engaging deeply and fully in the firefights that matter (Arizona, DREAM, enforcement resistance, boycotts, Utah, and more!), and finally getting realistic about both winning and politics.  Like I say, the chances of a change in strategy this radical, regardless of how necessary, are slim and none, but that shouldn’t change the arguments between organizers looking for a real plan.

The various initiatives and campaigns seem to be squandering the opportunity and challenge presented by SB 1070 in Arizona.  There are depressing divisions between the local efforts and the national campaigns.  There are splits around voter engagement and registration efforts which have created two “tables” squaring off in the squabbling for outside resources and funding on a 50,000 new registrant goal.  I’ve been told that SEIU, which had been the largest labor participant in the reform efforts, has virtually left the campaign over the split.  Now the Arizona work has devolved more into a legal battle than a field effort, and this is tragic, regardless of the outcome.  Without full support for a field operation and movement building operation in Arizona, we have lost the messaging war already to preemption rather than human and family rights, and the Governor and the right have done surprisingly – depressingly! – well arguing that they are “little ol’ Arizona” doing what the feds and Congress wasn’t willing to tackle.  Ugh!  I understand messing with the major leagues about the all-star game next year, but I do not understand why there has not been a drastic national step up in the boycott efforts around Arizona?  This seems to be a more critical ball that is squiggling into a blooper pay on the battlefield.

The squandering of resources and beltway bull has created a campaign culture that is better at creating a funding strategy and a something that might sustain a few organizations than accepting the burden and necessity of having to really take the risks to build a real movement.  The arguments around targets between the White House and President, Democrats and Republicans are classic examples of this tension, where the campaign cannot win.  Only a movement recognition that realizes that both have to be common and constant targets so that the movement can build the moral force to transcend partisan politics to demand simple and incontrovertible justice has any chance of breaking through this mess.  And, that is not something that needs to be polled, messaged, and focus grouped.  It has to be organized.

Without a movement the legislative map is bleak.  The President is playing politics with immigration around the midterm election now, and too many of the immigration reform leadership and organizations have moved to toe his line, which is both inappropriate and embarrassing.  There clearly is no chance for comprehensive reform in 2010, and building an organizing plan on sand is a certain disaster.   The President’s decision to make immigration a wedge issue for the elections means that not only will comprehensive reform efforts lose critical votes in the election, but with even fewer supporters is likely to face wildly contentious reactionary efforts that will come out of this politicization of immigration in these polarized times.  Soberly, unless something changes the only slim hope would be a 2nd term reelection and a realignment of majorities that allowed a real Congressional push in the first six months of 2013 as the #2 or #3 issue after inauguration.

Without a real movement tactically sails need to be trimmed.   Immigrants need some wins now, not in the by-and-by at 2013 or later.  We need to start breaking the parts out so that we can win whatever is possible, no matter how piecemeal.  My vote would still be DREAM works because there has been courage and heat there, and no adequate response from the opposition yet.  We also have to move to our strengths locally, rather than sitting on our hands while the right and our opponents creates one hotspot after another through local initiatives.  We need our own islands in the storm.  We need to start pushing in areas of our core support and strength for “model” programs that go the other way, and polarize the debate on the good side, rather than for the forces of evil.

Voter registration is all well and good, but if not targeted it is unclear how it can build our movement or any movement.  The midterms are looking like a disaster and simple VR efforts will be swept up in that tide if not targeted.  We need to pick 2, 3, 6 races around the country where we can make a difference and punish the enemies of reform.  Regardless of the dominant narrative that emerges for the parties and the President, an autonomous movement for immigration reform needs to be at the podium citing the proof our emerging and potential strength not in statistics, but in a body count with real heads mounted on the wall.

It’s time for some real discussions about field, strategy, and tactics in immigration reform, but it’s also time for some changes so that we can deliver real relief now and build the movement that we need for the comprehensive reforms that immigrants are demanding.  And, we need to do this yesterday!