Thursday, January 15, 2009

Strategic Pause for Immigration Reform?

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

Isn’t it past time for a pause?

We certainly need a campaign for liberal immigration reform. But shouldn’t there have been one of those strategic planning sessions that NGO consultants and meddling board members are continually advocating? Isn’t it time to look back before marching forward? 

  We are told by the Carnegie Corporation – one of the major funders of the liberal immigration reform movement – that the movement is rebuilding. The leaders of this movement are telling each other and the media that their time has come. It all adds up, they are saying. 

The record Latino vote (but doesn’t the Latino vote routinely exceed its past record?), friends in the new administration, results from polls they themselves commission, their interpretation of the election results, even what the departing and badly discredited president says about immigration reform. It all signals, for them, that this is the time for CIR. 

Certainly there were a series of meetings among themselves and with their funders to chart new directions in the aftermath of the collapse of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) in June 2007.

But rather than pausing for a hard look at the new political realities in America and to reflect on why their immigrant-rights message was failing so miserably as a policy framework for immigration reform, they patted themselves on the back and pushed on with a new infusion of foundation funding. 

Rather than to consider the wisdom or validity of their own messaging – immigrants, legal or illegal, have an intrinsic right to be granted U.S. citizenship since America has been and will always be a nation of immigrants – these immigrant-rights leaders (centered around National Immigration Forum, National Council of La Raza, Center for Community Change, and the newly formed America’s Voice) blamed the opposition for their own failures

Now, with a new grassroots and lobbying campaign underway to reintroduce CIR, there seems to be little time to consider some basic questions about message and strategy. 

If there were wide-open strategic planning session of the kind that seems so badly needed, some of the questions and issues that deserve consideration might include the following: Does it make good sense to fashion the immigrant-rights movement as a policy reform movement? 

 There is an immigrant-rights movement because the rights of immigrants to due process and equal protection are routinely (and increasingly) violated. 

But should this movement, which rightly represents the rights and interests of noncitizens, be tasked to make the case that liberal immigration reform is in the best interests of citizens? 

 No doubt the immigrant-rights message should be part of the campaign for liberal immigration reform, but should it be central? If liberal immigration reform – as opposed to a restrictionist immigration reform – is in the common interest of the U.S. public, then why is the networking of this reform movement focused almost entirely on immigrant constituencies and special interest groups (business, labor, immigration lawyers, among others)? 

 Wouldn’t an immigration reform movement have greater credibility and impact if its voices were those of teachers, police chiefs, mayors, state legislators, social service providers, and other civic leaders rather than almost exclusively of those whose organizations have a special rather than common interest in such issues as legalization, family reunification, and increased visas? 

Shouldn’t the liberal foundations, in addition to their essential commitment to immigrant rights, be more focused on helping give voice to these constituencies for liberal immigration reform? Why is it that the anti-immigration forces were able to mobilize their members with such great success to oppose CIR in 2007, when the so-called immigration reform movement was barely heard? 

Immigrant-rights organizations operating largely autonomously brought millions of immigrants and their supporters out into the streets of America to demonstrate their outrage at the intensifying immigrant crackdown in 2006 and as a call-out for sympathy and solidarity. 

Why didn’t the leaders of the immigration reform movement recognize then that the greatest need was to reach out to citizens with a pro-immigration message rather than focus on the networking of already deeply concerned, mobilized groups and communities? 

 Is a movement really a movement when it depends so heavily on foundation funding, and may not exist without that funding? All too clearly there is an immigration backlash movement in the United States. There is also an inspiring immigrant-rights movement that both supports the integration of immigrants in U.S. society and increasingly defends the rights of immigrants. 

Does it make good tactical sense to pit the latter movement that is concerned with the plight of noncitizens against the former which is a movement of citizens? 

 The immigrant-rights groups – National Immigration Forum, America’s Voice, and National Council of La Raza – are the dominant voices of the NGO movement for immigration reform and are important, highly valued voices on behalf of immigrants. 

But how does the U.S. public react when these self-described immigrant-rights groups position also presume to be the voices of all Americans when speaking to Congress and the media about immigration? When does the message about the rights, plight, and history of immigrants stop being a useful political strategy to advance either the common interests of U.S. citizens or the specific interests of immigrants? 

There are, of course, many other questions that need to asked and answered. None are easy, and nobody has all the answers.

It is incumbent, though, on the organizations that claim to be America’ voice on liberal immigration reform and on the foundations that empower them to pause to consider the wisdom and efficacy of their standard positions on immigration reform. Instead, they push so confidently, so heedlessly forward, and expecting all of us to follow -- onward to another CIR defeat. 

  Next in Border Lines' CIR series: “Four-Pillar Structure” of Immigration Reform Movement


sarrbear said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
sarrbear said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.