Tom Barry, August 25, 2008
At a time when immigration restrictionists have succeeded in reframing the immigration debate, immigration advocates can count on a new organization.
America’s Voice, headed by veteran immigration-policy advocate Frank Sharry, is the executive director of this new organization that aims to form a communications and media “war room” to reverse the direction of the immigration policy debate.
Sharry, who is perhaps the most respected voice (and certainly the most frequently quoted) from the nongovernmental community, resigned from the National Immigration Forum to lead America’s Voice. Its slogan is: “The Power to Win Common Sense Immigration Reform.”
America’s Voice aims to counter the grassroots and political success of the restrictionists with “an unprecedented voter mobilization campaign targeting immigrant voters” and “a campaign-style communications and rapid-response war room.”
If it is to resonate beyond the small immigrant-rights community, America’s Voice will need to craft a message that departs from the traditional language of the pro-immigration community, which its critics, with some justification, describe as an “open borders lobby.”
Thus far, it is attempting to bridge the messaging gap with ts call for “smart” and “tough” immigration reform, and with its assertion that “America can be both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws” – which is now candidate Obama’s message, too.
Formed in March 2008, Sharry has his work cut out for him. He promises to lead a campaign “dedicated to winning broad immigration reform in the first term of the next president” – something that Obama and the draft Democratic Platform also promise but which seems exceedingly optimistic.
Despite election promises, it is hard to imagine that either Republican or Democratic candidate will as president spend what little political capital he will have on this highly contentious issue. More likely, as Bush has done, there will be more rhetoric for comprehensive reform than any real action.
Sharry says that America’s Voice will be working closely with the We are America Alliance, another immigrant advocacy organization, "to mobilize a million new voters in 13 states running in the lead up to November 4th. We believe that the combination of an historic turnout of immigrant voters for whom immigration reform is a defining issue and the failure of illegal immigration as a wedge issue will help create more political space for reform.”
Back in March, Sharry predicted that “candidates will attempt to use illegal immigration as a wedge issue like never before.” However, as Democratic Party candidates increasingly adopt – or fail to oppose – the administration’s “enforcement only” campaign, there may not be much of a wedge to drive between candidates. What’s more, it’s unlikely that many voters would make a decision in the presidential campaign on immigration issues, given that McCain, for all of his tough talk lately, is known as McAmnesty among the restrictionists.
But Sharry is one of the most well-informed actors in the immigration debate, and it’s likely that he and America’s Online will continue to be opinion leaders on immigration. For more on Sharry and the likely approach of America’s Voice, see a fascinating interview with him posted on Immigration Daily.
“So the Republicans are committing a mistake of historic proportions, and the Democrats are divided over whether to hide behind their desks or to play offense. And so the Democrats could blow this if they continue to spout a Republican Lite line. They actually are going to have to unite in favor of a solution, stick their chins out, stick their necks out, and win the argument. And if they don't, we won't have reform, and I suspect it will hurt Democrats not only with Latino immigrant voters but with swing voters as well.”
Let’s hope that Sharry and America’s Voice can really identify an authentic progressive voice of America on this divisive issue, and not just echo the now badly marginalized voice of liberal immigration advocates.
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