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Next Fight: Immigration? (Anyone have the guts?)

April 27, 2010

Shortly after the passage of the health care bill, I participated in a phone interview with a few progressive bloggers and Rep. Hank Johnson (D – GA). As a Regional Whip, Rep. Johnson is privy to leadership thinking and it was refreshing to receive frank responses from Mr. Johnson that he had to know wouldn’t make progressive bloggers happy. Following the grueling slog that was health care reform, the conventional wisdom was that Speaker Pelosi would not make members take any more difficult votes before the midterms. I asked if he agreed with this assessment. Another blogger, Jesse LaGrecca (Ministry of Truth at DailyKos and Progressive Electorate) asked about the prospects for immigration reform: immigration could be a winning issue for Democrats and a huge long term weakness for the GOP. (Anyone remember 2006?)

While the latter could hardly be argued, it is also true that voting for anything that the GOP will label as “amnesty” is a difficult vote for many Democrats in conservative districts, already bloodied by the health care fight. In fact, Rep. Johnson said as much. He foresaw Financial Reform as the next step, followed perhaps by some movement on Climate regulation, but not anticipating votes on anything of real substance prior to the midterm election. Politics is, after all, a game for pragmatists, not idealists.

What a difference a month makes! I have no doubt that the road-map Rep. Johnson laid out was the safe bet at the time, but that was before Arizona became a racist police state. (Do I betray my bias?) Suffice it to say that Arizona’s recent action has thrust Immigration policy into the spotlight. As of this posting, it remains to be seen which direction the Democrats will go. Still, indications are strong that they may next move on Immigration rather than Climate. After all, Sen. Lindsey Graham is flailing uselessly about in an apparent attempt to stop it. Could it be that some in the GOP have misgivings about ticking off a large and ever-growing demographic? When even Tom Tancredo suggests the Arizona law goes too far, it is clear the right is in disarray over the issue.

Not that this is anything new. Recall that the last time immigration became a prominent national issue was when George W. Bush promoted a comprehensive immigration plan. Also recall that it went nowhere and achieved nothing other than ratcheting up xenophobic hysteria on the right and insuring GOP defeat. I do not give George W. Bush credit for very much; in fact, I believe immigration reform was the only topic I could remotely get behind him on. Still, this was one thing on which the right would be well-advised to follow his lead. While W would surely fail the purity tests of the Tea Party, he is a Republican and as such, even he could see the folly of alienating the fastest growing segment of the American populace.

In fact, the GOP pretty much decided to tuck their tail and run as far away from the immigration issue as they could. But then came the election of 2008, and Barack Obama won the White House. The predictable (if irrational) response from the right following their historic defeat was to move even further right. (Enter the Tea Party.) Add to this the long and ugly history in the US of anti-immigrant sentiment, particularly in times of economic stress, and you’ve got the nasty cocktail that is Arizona today.

So we have the spectacle of the most recent GOP presidential candidate flip-flopping on his own immigration proposals. Poor, poor John McCain: it’s hard to believe he once was respected for at least superficial integrity. And yet, he’s hedging his bets, refusing to fully endorse the Arizona law, as are Marco Rubio, Mitch McConnell, and as previously mentioned, Tom Tancredo (!). Some on the right are salivating at what they see as a marvelous opportunity to fire up their base (their old, white, racist, xenophobic base, terrified of an America where whites are no longer the majority.) Sensible people, on the other hand, would note that a base of old white people has little future. Hmmm…quite the quandary for the right and the GOP.

What about the Democrats? Will they go for a forceful push on immigration this year? Last month, on an episode of the Rutherford Lawson show, I predicted that Dems would start moving on immigration prior to the midterm elections, but that I in no way expect a finished bill before then. At the risk of tooting my own, horn, I think I nailed it. Cynical? You bet. Essentially I’m saying the Democrats are afraid of forcing members into a tough vote prior to an already tough election; but at the same time, they see real value, both in the short and long terms, in reminding the Latino community and all immigrants just who is on their side, in the process driving enthusiasm in a year when it is seriously lacking on the left.

As a partisan, it’s smart politics. As an American seriously concerned with justice, opportunity, equality and fair immigration policy, it’s a glimmer of hope that they had damn sure follow through on if they don’t expect to lose that voting block to apathy and disillusionment in 2012. So the question is: can the Democrats, whether prior to midterms or after, actually follow through and enact comprehensive immigration reform? Is their heart even in it? It’s a legitimate question, considering the state of identity politics in this country, and the Democrats’ underwhelming efforts to placate these groups when in power. (Witness the foot-dragging on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell alone.)

The Democrats are certainly not alone in failure to move the agendas of their base: Bush was widely criticized for not doing enough to move the agenda of the religious right. However, Democrats should be better than the GOP, more responsive, not less. Certainly winning and retaining power is crucial (nothing can be accomplished without it) but boldness of action has to be called for. The greatest mistake of health care reform was the failure to act more boldly in the initial process. So far, as they approach Financial Regulation, Senate Democrats and Harry Reid, in particular, seem to have learned that lesson. Then again, reforming Wall Street is not exactly a controversial topic with the voting public. My prediction is that the Democrats can get immigration reform done, but it will take strong leadership, especially from President Obama.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. brittanicus permalink
    April 27, 2010 4:45 pm


    “We’ve had numerous officers that have been killed by illegal immigrants in Arizona,” Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said on a previous Monday, at a Capitol Hill news conference. “And that shouldn’t happen even one time.” he also added “Folks, your cops, your sheriffs cannot do this alone,” Babeu said. “We’re doing our best and we’re overwhelmed. We’re stressed and things are out of control. We need the help of troops that are deployed along the border, additional resources for our border patrol and a zero tolerance policy.” THIS IS THE REASON FEDERAL TROOPS SHOULD BE DEPLOYED TO THE BORDER–TO DEFEND THE SPARSE POPULATION OF TOWNSFOLK, CATTLEMAN AND RANCH OWNERS ALONG THE WHOLE LENGTH OF THE BORDER

    The cost of the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 to top $1 trillion within the next few months, according to the Congressional Research Service. Yet our politicians will not address the danger to people in the border region, Our politicians scratch around like headless chickens, worrying about costs. The deaths of Robert Kruntz, cattle Rancher-US Border Patrol, Sheriff and deputies who have been murdered along the region has opened a Pandora box. Yet it seems to most people they worry more about people on the other side of the world. Now because their complete disregard for Americans people safety, Arizona has been overrun with drug cartel criminal We have been continuously lied to, but not just from Democrats but Republicans as well about the border fence. If they build the original fence as originally designed by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), instead of worrying about the sensitivities of a corrupt government run by elites.

    Any person trying to enter America would be apprehended between the two fences–in the no-mans-land–where they would be arrested. NOT ONE FENCE! BUT TWO FENCES? Before they could even scale the–SECOND–fence, they would already be exhausted from scaling the first fence and the patrolling flying drones or racing Border officer SUV would pick them up immediately. A good investigative report of the current fence–such as it is–comprises of vehicle barriers and rusty relic barbed wire in many sections of the border. In other regions the so-called lawmakers paid millions of dollars for virtual equipment that is malfunctioning and probably received monetary kickbacks for the contracts. For decades voters have reelected the same, tired, incumbent politicians must take the blame for the carnage in Arizona and have now blood on their hands. Arizona is on the front line of the blood bath, cause by the invasion of criminals pouring into the overrun state and a crippled economy of foreign welfare seekers. Send a message by Kicking out Sen. Reid as he tried to destroy the only immigration enforcement tool–E-VERIFY. HE IS ALSO FOR AMNESTY, WHICH WE WILL FIGHT TO THE END.. Get the facts–not lies and propaganda distributed by the Liberals hiding behind the Democratic facade at NUMBERSUSA.

    • May 5, 2010 9:54 am

      While I in no way agree with your post, I apologize that it got caught in the site’s spam filter.
      It would appear that to Sheriff Babeu, “numerous officers killed” translates to 2 since 2007.

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