National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

Managing Expectations About the Immigration Debate

August 31, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


It is the end of August, and soon Congress will be returning to resume the debate on health care.  After a month of attacks by opponents, the only thing that has become more clear is that it is unclear when this debate will end.  For the issue of immigration reform and the other pressing issues in line behind health care, the line doesn’t seem to be moving.


In the August 28th North (San Diego) County Times, Edward Schumacher-Matos argues that comprehensive immigration reform should be put off. He understands that immigration reform is an urgent matter, and I liked his summary of the rationale for reform:


Comprehensive reform is needed because the many pieces of the system are linked. Previous reform attempts over the last 50 years failed because they didn't include a sufficiently flexible system of work visas to meet labor demand, didn't punish employers who needed and hired the resulting surge of illegal immigrants, cut off return flows by militarizing the border, and left the nation's legal system frozen in the headlights of confronting so many people not supposed to be here.


Neverthless, he argues that it is just too difficult to accomplish immigration reform right now:


Obama's plate already has far too much on it…. Obama himself acknowledged in Mexico that "it's very important for us to sequence these big initiatives in a way where they don't all just crash at the same time."


Given the Republican opposition to broad immigration and health care reform, a weakened Obama is not in the interest of most Hispanics or progressives.


We do not agree that immigration reform must wait for some unspecified time in the future after debate on other issues has been completed, or that we need to wait and give Congress time to lay low before an election because they are scared to tell voters they are working to solve tough problems.


Having said that, however, immigration reform advocates must be prepared to face more delays.  Why?  Because no matter how pressing a problem is, and regardless of whether it is an Administration priority, a solution to the immigration problem and every other major challenge facing the nation must be forged in a Congress that has become so dysfunctional with partisan bickering that it is a miracle when something does get done.


Expectations for immigration reform are sky-high in immigrant, union, faith, business, and other communities.  There has been a lot of momentum for reform.  New communities are being organized.  New voices are speaking out.  Still, opponents of immigration reform will look for every opportunity to slow our momentum. 


In the Senate, particularly, the rules favor those who want to slow down or block something.  Today, almost everything that is moving through the Senate—whether it is health care, climate change, or the naming of some post office—faces a filibuster by a minority that is intent on seeing that the President’s and the Congressional leadership’s agenda fails.  In the last Congress, Republicans forced a record 112 cloture votes to end potential filibuster.  So far this year alone, there have been 22.  Cloture involves a procedure that, in sum, eats up time.  Cloture—a vote to stop a filibuster—requires 60 votes.  (That’s why we say that for immigration reform, we need 60 votes in the Senate.)  A cloture vote has to be won before there is a vote on the actual bill.  All these filibusters slow down the workings of the Senate.


Delay is part of the political game.  By slowing down our momentum, opponents of immigration reform are counting on advocates to become discouraged—or even to turn on the Administration in frustration.  With our momentum slowed, anti-immigrant groups and their allies in radio and cable media will have more time to mobilize their supporters to shout against reform. 


Any slowdown in progress toward reform will be magnified by the media, because there is drama in the sky-high expectations of the President’s Latino and New American supporters bumping into the reality of a political system that resists change.


Just look at the stories that came out of the press conference the President had recently in Mexico with North American leaders.  Responding to a question about the timeline for immigration reform, the President said he anticipated that there will be draft legislation by the end of the year, and that “we should be in a position to start acting” next year.


There were two types of stories written about his answer.  There were stories about the President dealing with the political realities of the Congressional timeline, and there were stories that implied the President is putting immigration on the back burner.  Reading the transcript of the President’s remarks, however, makes the first interpretation look like the more reasonable one.


There will be more setbacks, but to be discouraged only reinforces the strategy of those opposed to reform.  So, how should we respond to delay?


Actually, Schumacher-Matos put it well in the conclusion of his column, saying that our


…highest priority should be to keep building coalitions, especially between labor and business, and construct grass-roots support for comprehensive legislation that, when it is addressed, comes packaged for approval and will work.


We can be disappointed, but we can’t be discouraged.  We have to keep our eye on the prize.  It’s going to be a long tough slog.  But we will win.


Photo by ckaiserca



Crossroads Campaign Solutions