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Game Changer?

March 15, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

game change


As the New York Times put it on Saturday, there is "Nothing like 100,000 angry, frustrated, impatient marchers, representing millions of voters, to focus the Congressional and presidential mind…."  The immigration march, the Times says, may be the one possible game changer to break the logjam in Congress on the issue of immigration reform.


The March for America will take place in Washington on Sunday, March 21.  Tens of thousands of people are expected to participate, pressing Congress and the President to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  In anticipation of the march, there was a flurry of activity last week.


On Thursday, President Obama held a series of meetings on immigration reform.  The first was with advocates for immigration reform, who reminded the President of the heavy toll immigration raids and the enforcement of broken laws was taking on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.  The advocates were there to urge the President to honor his promise to fix America's broken immigration system and to show more leadership on the issue.


Next, the President met with the two Senators who have been negotiating a start point for this round of the immigration debate in Congress—Senator Charles Schumer of New York and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.  The Senators shared with the President their agreed-upon framework for immigration reform legislation.  They also urged the President to show more leadership on the issue, in particular, to help gain more support in the Senate, and to help work out the differences that yet exist between business and labor.


For their part, advocates, represented by the Campaign to Reform Immigration FOR America, were pleased, saying in a statement that, based on the conversation with the President, "we are optimistic and expecting aggressive and urgent action from the White House on comprehensive immigration reform before March 21st."


For his part, the President said in a statement that he,


"told both the Senators and the community leaders that my commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is unwavering, and that I will continue to be their partner in this important effort."


On the same day, the President met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and again immigration reform (as well as other issues) was on the agenda.


With the President's renewed attention, perhaps a little support for immigration reform can be rounded up in the Senate.  In particular, the effort needs more Republican support. 


As the Times noted in its editorial, it used to be that with immigration reform there was,


"…a lot for Republicans to like: conservative arguments that reform is good for business, reunites families, bolsters national security — and pleases Latino voters."


Not so long ago, immigration reform had the support of several Republicans in the Senate.  Now, however, Senator Graham is the only Republican in the Senate who is willing to lead on the issue.  The rest dare not run afoul of the ideological purity police who act as a sort of Taliban for the Republican Party. As Graham recently told Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, there comes a point when "fear stops you from acting in the best interests of the country."


If Republicans are responding to the purity police within their base, what are Democrats doing for their base?


Immigration reform is an urgent humanitarian mater for the thousands of families and hundreds of communities and faith congregations that are being torn apart as the government continues to enforce broken laws.  It is also an urgent political matter for Democrats.  Elections are approaching, the right is energized, and Democrats don't have a lot to fire up Latinos and the first-time voters who were inspired to vote in 2008 with promises that new leadership would tackle immigration reform and a range of major challenges facing the country. 


Douglas Rivlin, at NewsJunkePost.com, reports on a study of voting in the recently-concluded New York Mayor's race.  Just one in five voters who were first-time voters in 2008 voted in the Mayor's race. 


If that pattern is not to be repeated in November, those voters need something to validate a belief that their vote in 2008 made a difference.  For Latinos, the validation they need is immigration reform (or at the very least, a sincere attempt to pass it).


 Photo by Flickr user Hjelle.

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