A project of the Center for Community Change

A Little Momentum on Immigration Reform

By Deepak Bhargava, the Executive Director at the Center for Community Change. Originally published at the Huffington Post.

It’s always amusing to watch political leaders trying to catch up with the people. The White House is now sprinting to catch up with those demanding practical solutions to our broken immigration system. After more than 14 months and no progress, the grassroots finally lost their patience.

One would like to think that this belated effort from the administration is being stoked by a renewed understanding of the moral dimensions of the crisis and comprehension of the desperate need our economy has for the infusion that immigration reform would bring.

In reality, politics is much more complicated. The history of how we got here looks more like this:

Administration Fails to Lead

CNN: Obama not pushing to pass immigration reform this year
Multiple Obama administration officials tell CNN that the White House is not pushing to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year.

Congress does what they usually do – nothing.

New York Times: Reform, on Ice
President Obama gave immigration reform only one vague sentence in his State of the Union address. Despite that, and the poisonous stalemate on Capitol Hill, the White House and Democratic Congressional leaders insist that they are still committed to presenting a comprehensive reform bill this year — one that would clamp down on the border and workplace, streamline legal immigration and bring 12 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows.

Grass roots and real people get angry at what is happening in their communities and frustrated that the change they were promised is not being delivered.

America’s Voice: Democrats Accused of “Empty Words” on Immigration
There’s a very strong editorial today in La Opinion on the issue of immigration reform. Translated, the title reads, “No More Empty Words.” It lays responsibility for any inaction on immigration this Congress squarely at the feet of Democrats. It notes that in the past Democrats were able to blame Republicans for blocking comprehensive immigration reform, but not now, not with control of the White House and solid majorities in both chambers.

Organizers come up with means for grassroots voices to be heard.

Ali Noorani, Huffington Post: A Vision Becoming Reality for March 21st
Today, La Opinion, the largest Spanish language newspaper in the U.S., reported on a possible framework for moving forward comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the Senate. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has worked for more than a year with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to create a bipartisan immigration reform bill. Advocates and immigrant communities have been waiting for many years for the government to finally fix the broken immigration system, to an immigration system that works and reflects the interests and the values of the American people. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Americans are mobilizing across the country to push for immigration reform.

Washington Post: Immigrant rights group slam Obama, Democrats for slow action with legalization bill
Leaders of nearly a dozen grass-roots immigrant rights groups excoriated President Obama and congressional Democrats on Monday, accusing them of moving too slowly to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants and citing a record number of deportations in 2009.

Political consequences begin to arise.

Joshua Hoyt, Washington Post: Obama risks alienating Latinos with lack of immigration reform
I have known Barack Obama since 1986, when we were both community organizers. I am still organizing on the streets of Chicago, and what I see in the Latino community makes me fear that the president is oblivious to the pain wrought by our broken immigration system. It could have a profound effect on the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Markos Moulitsas, The Hill: Immigration is Dems’ key
No matter who wins the tight special election in Massachusetts, the results will likely render Democrats paralyzed with fear. Indeed, the anti-incumbent sentiment that aided Democrats the last two cycles now threatens to take out a big chunk of the Democratic majorities this coming November, and the governing party has done little to prove it can deliver on campaign promises.

Irish Central: Rahm Emanuel blocking progress on immigration reform says Hispanic lobby
Rahm Emanuel has emerged as the major problem within the White House on reform of immigration. A New York Times magazine article due out this Sunday reports that Hispanic leader in Congress believe that he does not take the the issue seriously and is the person blocking progress.

White House tries to quell discontent with a meeting.

Douglas Rivlin, AlterNet: White House Immigration Meeting Postponed
Roll Call and others are reporting that the White House meeting President Obama and Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had scheduled for Monday afternoon was rescheduled. Apparently, Senator Graham’s flight was cancelled…No word yet on when the meeting will be rescheduled, but the clock is ticking. The March for America, planned for March 21, would seem to be a hard deadline for the President and Congress to demonstrate some progress, an event not likely to be postponed because of flight delays.

White House then calls for a meeting with grass roots leaders.

Politico: RAIN CHECK
The immigration meeting will be rescheduled, a White House spokesman said – and staffers will meet with grassroots immigration groups on Thursday. — Glenn Thrush

Then comes the racist backlash.

Campus Progress: In Secret Meeting Held By Mainstream Anti-Immigration Group, Talk Of Turning Immigrant Women Into ‘The New Welfare Queens’ And Other Incendiary Rhetoric
In a evening conference call held last night, Mar. 8, anti-immigration group Numbers USA–best known for its brute force attacks on Congress to defeat comprehensive immigration reform in 2007–discussed a variety of tactics to thwart an upcoming march on Washington DC by immigrant rights supporters, including one proposal to call immigrant women from Mexico “the new welfare queens in America.”

OpEdNews: Alarming rise in the number of anti-government, anti-immigrant extremist groups
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has reported an alarming rise in the number of American anti-government militia and anti-immigrant groups, which have remained largely dormant since their heyday in the mid-1990s.

The question of what happens next will be answered by the White House and Democrats. Will they lead on this issue or not? In that offing, I see two possible outcomes: Obama delivers on promises for immigration reform. Most Americans cheer practical bipartisan solution.

Or Obama fails to deliver change. Turn out low. Incumbents turned out of office. It’s that simple.

Follow Deepak Bhargava on Twitter: www.twitter.com/communitychange

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