“Not the usual suspects-” This is how Nico Pitney, National Editor for the Huffington Post and moderator on a panel discussion about the prospect of immigration reform, introduced his fellow panelists. Organized by the Center for American Progress, Netroots Nation, and America’s Voice, the panel featured some of the leading voices for comprehensive and just immigration reform, including Markos Zúñiga, founder and editor of Daily Kos, Andrea Nill, immigration blogger for Think Progress, and María Elena Durazo from the AFL-CIO.
Using the context of Rep. Luis Gutierrez‘s progressive CIR ASAP immigration reform bill introduced in mid December, the recent election of Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts (and the obvious question of how this will affect the progressive agenda including immigration reform), President Obama’s campaign promise to address immigration reform with his election, a lively discussion ensued on what makes the present time ripe for the passage of immigration reform legislation. Unlike the harsh and divisive debates of failed reform in 2007, the overall outlook amongst the panelists was positive, as they approached the topic from the point of view of electoral vote politics, the economy, and the labor movement.
Using Rep. Gutierrez’s bill as a solid base, Andrea Nill began by clarifying the fundamentals of Comprehensive Immigration Reform which would include,
An earned path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, including registering with the government, a background check, paying taxes, and ensuring their integration into society.
Creating flexible channels for the future legal flow of immigration which could adjust itself to the ebb and flow of the economy.
Smart enforcement policies including moving resources away from spending money trying to detain and deport immigrants and “chasing busboys and nannies through the desert” into addressing problems such as drug and human trafficking at the border.
Markos Zuniga made the distinction between the political climate around immigration in 2007 and now by talking about today’s polls that show 66% of voters (an equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans) support reform making it a truly bipartisan issue. With Latino groups reaching a plurality in 2050 and Asian and other minority communities growing rapidly, the co-relation between electoral votes and reform is clear. For many Republicans, falling back onto nativist rhetoric and hate-mongering like in 2007, could mean a significant loss in votes from Latino and other immigrant communities.”President Bush won 40% of the immigrant vote in 2004, John McCain only got 28% in 2008, so the long term health of republican party is in jeopardy if they can’t appeal to immigration groups.”
Andrea Nill added that while there are three groups largely responsible for the nativist rhetoric – FAIR, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, there is also division between the anti-immigration movement, including within the Republican party between moderates willing to engage with immigration reform, and hardliners such as Rep. Joe Wilson and Rep. Brian Bilbray and other members of the House Immigration Reform Caucas.
Speaking on behalf of the labor movement, Maria Durazo said there is high expectations from the administration and Congress to deliver on its promise of reform.”These are people who harvests our crops, build our buildings and work in our restaurant…they do services for us but then when we need to respond to their need to bring them out of the shadows we call them names – law breakers, illegals…we want to make sure any immigration legislation has protections for workers, both native born and undocumented immigrants who will come out of the shadows – because we will all lose if we don’t work together.”
In terms of Sen. Scott Brown’s recent victory, the panelists felt that it has little effect since immigration reform has and always will be a bipartisan issue. But on a larger scale, the election felt emblematic of the waning of Democrat popularity due to their lack of engagement with many issues, including immigration, and while voters are looking for the ‘hope’ and ‘change’ that they were promised, immigration reform is an opportunity for both Democrats and Republicans to work together towards a viable solution.
But there is also an economic argument for reform. According to a recent Center for American progress report, immigration reform will be crucial for the economy, with mass deportation causing a loss of $2.6 trillion as opposed to a growth of approximately $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period if reform passes. And since the economy, like healthcare, is a foremost priority of the Obama administration, this is an opportunity to address both issues simultaneously.
The panelists were unanimous on the fact that the present situation is highly favorable towards immigration reform and highlighted the expanse, width and strength of the present coalitions, which today include faith-based groups, LGBT groups, ethnic groups, immigrant rights advocates and immigrant communities in general.
Looking ahead, while Rep. Gutierrez‘s progressive immigration bill which has 90 co-sponsors would serve as the progressive conscience, everyone is waiting for the bill that Sen. Charles Schumer is working on with Sen. Lindsey Graham is introducing for debate in the Senate. It will then move to the House where it will be written by Rep. Zoe Lofgren.
The penultimate point of the discussion centered around ensuring that the mainstream media begin to report on the issue and mobilize around reform. Maria Elena pointed out the importance of providing people with honest information about the implications of enforcement actions such as raids and detention to families and the economy. Markos Zuniga pointed out that Latino and Asian communities are virtually invisible to the mainstream media, thus removing one side of the immigration story. Stressing the importance of building a pro-immigration story into the media narrative, the speakers highlighted the essential role of online journalism, blogging and networking in building knowledge and momentum for the movement.