Going Small versus the Grand on Immigration Reform

Immigration Reform

familiesNew Orleans  Sitting in at the California field office of the House majority whip, Angelica Salas, the esteemed, outstanding director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), was informed that the House would not take up the issue of immigration reform before the end of the year, virtually taking the rest of the air out of hopes that there might be Republican movement finally on this issue.   With the mid-term elections in Congress now on a one-year countdown, it is hard to believe that a change of heart is likely that will lead to real relief for all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

            Talking to Chris Newman, the legal director of the National Day Laborers’ Organizing Network (NDLON) last week on Wade’s World on KABF/FM, he was candid about the internal debate now being waged intensely within the immigration reform movement about whether it was finally time to adjust strategies and go small, rather than big on potential legislation.   This has long been a debate at various levels since President Obama was first elected and activists sensed the time for change might be imminent.  Five years ago the DC-based, beltway voices prevailed over those arguing that more popular measures like a re-tooled DREAM Act for children brought to the US by their parents might succeed where more comprehensive reform was less likely.   The subsequent courage of the DREAMers won them some relaxation and relief even without a real, permanent solution.   Even Rick Perry, the rightwing, Republican Governor of Texas has argued that not finding a solution for children is simply “inhumane.”

Now, talking to Chris it was clear that the debate has once again focused on whether or not there are pieces of the reform mosaic that might be assembled if, as seems increasingly likely, the chances of comprehensive reform passing in both houses of Congress are remote.   As interesting were the points Chris made about the President and the discretion he could still exercise through executive orders.  Chris’s point was essentially, that if Obama could suspend deportations for young people so that they could move forward with their lives, then why could he also not use similar discretion to significantly reduce deportations of other immigrants that has now reached record levels under the Obama Administration and its enforcement guidelines.  

There may have been a tactical reason for the Administration to prove they were tough on border control and deportations in exchange for a strategy of holding out for the full loaf of reform, but now that we’re talking slices, what’s the excuse for not similarly easing back in specific areas involving particularly family separations which could suspend deportation for millions as well?  Additionally, Newman and I discussed the fact that California under Governor Jerry Brown was now leading on immigration reform and given the fact that the strongest immigration reform groups were actually local, not national, like CHIRLA in California, Casa de Maryland, and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), and the most dramatic fights have developed in places on the frontline in places like Arizona, perhaps going smaller would also allow grassroots strength – and anger – to lead where lobbying was failing in Congress.

Change is inevitable, and reform at whatever level and on whatever issues can get traction is needed immediately, so a new strategy may now be necessary to move the needle in steps, and even locally, while it is stuck in Washington.