Friday, January 9, 2009

Rebuilding the Immigrant-Rights Movement with More Money, But the Same Message

(Tenth in Border Lines series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)

Summarizing the fate of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR), the Carnegie Reporter in a cover article about the Carnegie Corporation grantees who led the coalition, concluded: “Despite all this intense effort the coalition was unable to develop a broad and strong enough movement to prevail.” 

 The article, “Immigration: The Reform Movement Rebuilds,” then describes the new strategy adopted by America’s Voice, National Immigration Forum, National Council of La Raza, Center for Community Change – the same groups that led CCIR – to rebuild the immigration reform movement. 

Basically, the strategy is to do the same type of outreach, advocacy, and communications work as CCIR but to do more of it and to do it better. Unquestioned as they move forward is their immigrant-rights message. 

 Reflecting on the past, Frank Sharry, who directed the National Immigration Forum for 17 years before moving over to become director of the newly created America’s Voice, said the movement is working to answer such questions as: “What is the best policy approach going forward? How do we strengthen and build a communications effort that has more volume and velocity and, most importantly, how do we have a grassroots operation that is nationwide and is effective?” 

Sharry and other immigrant-rights leaders blame CCIR’s failure on being outgunned by the opposition. “Let’s not miss the fact that one of the reasons we lost the last time [in 2007] is that the anti-immigrant forces mobilized their advocates and the pro-reformers did not,” said Sharry. 

To ensure that the immigrant-rights movement has a “communication effort designed to more directly challenge those who oppose immigration reform,” the Carnegie Corporation provided a $6.5 million two-year grant for the establishment of the America’s Voice Educational Fund. As the Carnegie Reporter noted, the CCIR “closed in February 2008 [and] America’s Voice (, an organization that grew out of this coalition, opened in March 2008 as a communications effort.” 

As the immigration reform movement, which the Carnegie Corporation and other liberal funders are generously backing, is rebuilding, there has been little reflection on the resonance, appropriateness, or wisdom of its messaging. 

Instead, the emphasis is amplifying its immigrant-rights argument for immigration reform through new funding for a barrage of communications instruments – blogs, videos, media releases, polls – with variations of the same message that failed so miserably in the CIR campaign. 

Rather than forging a message aimed at U.S. citizens, the reconstituted movement continues to equate immigrant rights with immigration reform. Despite the “America’s Voice” name, that’s not a message that’s likely to win citizen support for liberal immigration reform. 

 Also central to the reconstituted movement is a concerted campaign to delegitimize the leading restrictionist organizations – Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA, and Center for Immigration Studies – as nativists, hate groups, and racists. Meanwhile, these institutes have reshaped their anti-immigration message to adapt to the changing economic times and to the Obama administration. 

  Next in Border Lines CIR Series: Immigration Change Some Can Believe In

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