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New Orleans Rich Trumka of the AFL-CIO lambasted the Republican “principles” on immigration reform as a non-starter virtually creating a permanent apartheid of immigrants inside the country. There was a time when the vigorousness of labor’s opposition would have signaled the death of such a bill. This time though President Obama was encouraging to the Republicans, even signaling that he might be open to the door being shut on undocumented workers here now, as long as it wasn’t permanently locked. The president is obviously desperate to get something done on immigration in a time of political peril for his presidency with the countdown already beginning on whether or not his time is running out even though three years remain.
More troubling for reformers committed to more meaningful reform were comments made by Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who more than any other politician has made reform his issue in every way possible. Gutierrez essentially seem to be cautioning reformers that they need to lose the last of their illusions and be prepared to make a deal with the Republicans anyway they can, no matter the fact that they might be covering their noses, eyes, and mouths to do so. This seems to be the emerging Washington beltway consensus voiced as well in part by longtime advocates, Frank Sharry of America’s Voice and Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress.
In five years, the immigration reform movement seems to have devolved from a position of calling for comprehensive reform to trying to get a patchwork quilt to cover array of issues faced by 14 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Some of this isn’t news. Advocates have been strategically withdrawing for some time to be willing to embrace reform in separate packages rather than as part of a comprehensive measure. Chris Newman of NDLON, one of the leading groups behind any reform and one of the most aggressive, argued that this would be a necessary strategic shift months ago in an interview with me.
The Republican principles though are not what he had in mind, and you can take that to the bank! Even Ross Douthat, the Republican cheerleader and conservative op-ed columnist for the New York Times, argued that these principles were essentially a collection of special interests concessions without any pretense of fixing the problem.
The only place where there seems to be an emerging winner may be for the DREAMers, the children of undocumented immigrants brought to this country and raised here. Their courage, activism, and continued direct protest has convinced politicians of all stripes that the morality of their cause is something they cannot no longer escape. Direct action tactics, including the recent fast by Eliseo Medina and others, seem to have value in keeping a heartbeat for other protests, but do not seem to be moving the needle for more extensive reform.
Unfortunately though if we’re now negotiating from weakness, we’re facing a hard spring followed by at best a meager harvest.