Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pro-Immigrant Principles of Comprehensive Reform

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

Comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) is once again the central goal of the immigrant-rights movement. 

As it was during the Bush administration, legalization of the 11-12 million illegal immigrants living and working in the country is the sine qua non of any comprehensive immigration bill the movement would support. 

In considering the feasibility of a new CIR campaign, it is helpful looking back to the failed 2004-2007 campaign to pass CIR. The steward of this campaign was the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR), whose leading organizations were the National Immigration Forum, Center for Community Change, National Council of La Raza

Going into the campaign, a key problem for the involved groups was the absence in their ranks of a proposed immigration policy. These groups, particularly the National Immigration Forum and NCLR, were in the odd position of having worked for decades on immigration reform but of never having formulated a cohesive immigration reform policy they could take to Congress. 

Their abiding interest was not to lead the way toward a sensible and sustainable immigration policy but rather to represent the interests of immigrants and their families. Other key CCIR organizations like the Center for Community Change and the labor union Unite Here were newcomers to immigration struggles and approached immigration not as a policy issue but as a community or labor organizing issue. 

In other words, these groups and most others in the CCIR were concerned mainly with immigrant rights not immigration policy. When it came to forging an immigration reform that was comprehensive, they were – and are – not credibly situated. Immigration policy is necessarily about limits as well as openings to U.S. society and economy. 

Representing primarily immigrant communities, they were – and are – primarily about opening America to more immigrants. In a policy debate over immigration, a pro-immigration lobby is essential to ensure that the debate is not controlled by the anti-immigration lobby. 

But, in effect, CCIR was less a pro-immigration lobby than a pro-immigrant lobby. As such, it was well-situated to advance the interests of immigrants – legal and illegal – but less prepared to advance a pro-immigration position that spoke for the interests and concerns of citizens and voters. Nonetheless, as part of the CIR campaign, these groups did begin to articulate a pro-immigration position on the various CIR bills before Congress. 

Whereas their mission with respect to immigration reform was for various reasons to protect the interests of immigrants and would-be immigrants, they were obligated in the CIR debate to take positions on components of comprehensive reform that were fundamentally restrictive, such as border control, employment verification, national security, and the conditions of legalization. 

Understandably, they weren’t inclined to stand behind immigration restrictions but for the sake of their credibility in Congress and with the media, they increasingly adopted at least rhetorical positions of the restrictive components of immigration reform. 

But these positions came not from well-developed policy statements but largely as reactions to the demands of the changing policy debate. From the outset CCIR in 2004 gave a nod to enforcement, rule of law, and security issues in its formulation of CIR principles. 

But these restrictive components of a proposed CIR were clearly dependent on an immigration reform that legalized the illegal immigrants, facilitated family reunification, and greatly increased visas for legal immigration.

The coalition said that it “organizes and mobilizes the voices and power of the pro-immigrant movement in support of national legislation that incorporates key principles for immigration reform:

* Reform Must Be Comprehensive 
* Provide a Path to Citizenship 
* Protect Workers * Reunite Families 
* Restore the Rule of Law and Enhance Security * Promote Citizenship and Civic Participation and Help Local Communities

“Participation in the campaign,” said CCIR, “simply requires a commitment to a set of immigration reform principles and to engage in coordinated activity, as appropriate.”

As it evolved, CCIR added more flesh to its reform principles, reflecting the rightward direction of the immigration debate.

Next in CIR Series: Reasons for Failure of Liberal Immigration Reform

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