I've spent the past three days participating in the Reform Immigration for America summit in Washington, D.C. I've experienced more than my share of disappointments over the past few years in watching advocates come up short in the fight to bring sanity to the nation's misbegotten immigration laws.
Many of those wounds have been somewhat self-inflicted, largely because of the disparate nature of the many different organizations and interests who have made up the coalition of interests seeking comprehensive immigration reform.
And what was so encouraging about this summit is that it was clear that they are all coming together with a remarkable focus and ferocity. They will need it for the fight ahead.
The summit preceded President Obama's meeting 10 days hence with members of Congress on how to proceed on immigration. So the attendees fanned out after a rally Thursday to speak with their congressional delegations.
Eric Ward at Imagine 2050 has a terrific rundown:
Among cheers of “Sí se puede!” and “Time is now!” hundreds packed into the Church of the Reformation for a National Town Hall meeting on Capitol Hill. Their calls were clear - we can’t wait, we need comprehensive immigration reform now.
... Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said 80,000 faxes were sent to Congress in the last 24 hours, and freshman representatives from swing districts are willing to put their seats on the line for comprehensive immigration reform. Let’s hope many more members of congress are willing to go out on a limb for the millions of people suffering in limbo.
There's plenty of reason to feel optimistic this time out as well. America's Voice has done some recent polling (details in the PDF here) showing that the public, by a large margin, favors fixing the mess that is our current set of laws:
A poll of 1,000 likely voters throughout the country finds widespread support for a comprehensive immigration reform across demographics. The majority of participants perceive an economic and fiscal benefit to immigration reform and want Congress to address the economy and immigration reform simultaneously. While approximately 2/3 of voters support reform prior to hearing key components of the legislation, a detailed description of a comprehensive reform proposal receives support from nearly 9 in 10 voters.
And on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he wanted to see an immigration-reform package pass by the end of the year:
“As far as I’m concerned we have three major issues we have to do this year, if at all possible: No. 1 is healthcare; No. 2 is energy, global warming; No. 3 is immigration reform.
“It’s going to happen this session, but I want it this year, if at all possible.”
As Albor Ruiz at the NY Daily News reported:
"The reality is that the President wants immigration reform, the American people want immigration reform, and we are launching the Reform Immigration for America campaign to make it happen," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a nonpartisan group in Washington.
However, there are still plenty of challenges ahead -- some of them, again, internally inflicted. For instance, The Hill report notes that Reid is pushing for a "guest worker" program -- which typically means creating a system of indentured servitude that undermines the goals of bringing immigrants onto the path of citizenship and ensuring that employers cannot exploit the cheap labor of immigrants:
Reid added another challenge to the mix Thursday by saying he wants a guest-worker program included in the legislation, a move that may win him some Republican votes and support from business groups but alienate liberal Democrats and organized labor.
And some of them, as the New York Times on its editorial page noted yesterday, are a product of the Obama White House as well:
The Department of Homeland Security has been pressing ahead with the old Bush administration playbook of tightening the screws on the 12 million undocumented, particularly by lengthening the long arm of local law enforcement. Make no mistake: Stronger and more effective immigration enforcement should be a pillar of any reform plan. But stricter enforcement must be coupled with a path to legalization. And poorly designed enforcement without stringent checks on errors and abuse is a remedy worse than the disease.
The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, is sticking with the 287(g) program, which deputizes local police departments to enforce immigration law, despite all-too-frequent errors and abuses. Despite community outrage over racial profiling and indiscriminate “crime sweeps” in Maricopa County, Ariz., by the notorious sheriff, Joe Arpaio, he remains a member in good standing of Ms. Napolitano’s enforcement team.
Immigration and Custoto ms Enforcement is expanding its Secure Communities program, which automatically checks the immigration status of everyone booked in jail. That sounds benign, but advocates have raised legitimate concerns over its lack of oversight and internal controls. Any blanket checks of arrestees, both innocent and guilty, could easily provide cover to police departments that use neighborhood sweeps and mass arrests as a pretext to “cleanse” communities of unwanted immigrants — not just violent criminals, but harmless housekeepers, day laborers and gardeners.
There could be no quicker way than this to erode the hard-won advances in community policing, through which law enforcement agencies rely on the trust and cooperation of the people they protect.
Still, there's little doubt that the chief obstacle to immigration reform is the raging opposition that will come from the Right, just as it did in 2007. Boss Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck and the rest of the right-wing eliminationist media crew will once again join forces with the rabid nativists of the Republican right, like Tom Tancredo -- as well as the even more rabid forces of the extremist right, such as the Minutemen and the white supremacists who have been building their recruitment for the past 10 years around immigration.
It's going to be ugly, and we'll need to be fully prepared for the very serious fight ahead. The past week, though, has been an immensely encouraging start.
Because when we join arms on this, we will form a formidable force.