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The Health of Immigration Reform

March 25, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

March for America


The March 21 rally for immigration reform drew 200,000 to the National Mall in Washington.  As it turns out, this impressive show of organization took place on the same day that Congress was turning a chapter in the legislative agenda.  Sunday night, the House passed the Senate's health care reform bill, which has since become law.  Health care reform has dominated Congressional attention for most of the past year.  It's over.  (Well, except for campaign ads that will try to convince us that coverage of children under their parent's (private) health insurance plan until they are 26 years old is socialism.  But I digress.)


There is a strong case to be made that immigration reform can now be cleared for take-off.


For one thing, there is a matter of numbers (in the) USA.  Immigration reform advocates are organized in unprecedented numbers and with unprecedented energy.  The rally on the Mall on Sunday was the largest event of the day, but it wasn't the only one.  A thousand people rallied in Denver. In Omaha, a Catholic church overflowed with 600 people who came to listen to speeches supporting immigration reform.  Another hundred people gathered at a Methodist church in the same town to listen to the stories of immigrants hoping Congress will act on reform.  Another 300 people from four religious congregations marched through Grand Island in support of reform.  In Salinas, 10,000 people marched for immigration reform.  Thousands marched in Salt Lake City.  Another thousand in San Jose.  More events have taken place since Sunday.  More will be taking place in the coming weeks (like this one in Las Vegas). 


The problem's not fixed.  Calls to fix it are not going to stop.  Advocates are ready to pressure whoever needs to be pressured.


The numbers advocating for reform are impressive—and growing—but so is the breadth of the coalition supporting reform.  Let's just take a sample of the speaker lineup from the March for America.  Many faiths were represented—by Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of the Catholic diocese of Los Angeles; the Reverend Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Reverend Derrick Harkins, senior pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, DC; Reverand Dr. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada; Rabbi Morris Allen, spiritual leader of the Conservative Jewish Beth Jacob Congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota; and Bishop Minerva Carcaño, Bishop of the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church.


There were leaders from the National Urban League, the NAACP, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.  There were labor leaders from the AFL-CIO, UNITE HERE, SEIU, and UFCW.  There was Arturo Venegas, former police chief of Sacramento and current project director for the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative.  There were also leaders from the Latin American, Korean American, and Irish American communities—as well as a collection of local and regional immigrant advocacy leaders.


As for the political climate in Congress: it could be better.  One school of thought says that, because of the way health care was won, Republicans will refuse to support anything else on President Obama's agenda.  For example, Senator John McCain was quoted as saying "There will be no cooperation for the rest of this year."  (I may be getting forgetful, but remind me again when cooperation started in this Congress?)  As for the Democrats, the same school of thought says that a good number of them will balk at tackling another problem before the election.  For example, former Republican Congressman Tom Davis speculates,


``Republicans aren't going to feel intimidated by this [defeat on health care]. And marginal Democrats are not going to want to take another tough vote. [President Obama's] members will say, `We gave you this vote, but no more.' They'll have given him their last ounce of breath.''


But is Congress really not going to do anything more in this session because half of the Members are going to be sulking in a corner while some others tell us that before they will even consider tackling another difficult problem, we must re-elect them?


That's the story a lot of the media wants to tell.  It is not that simple. 


As we have said so many times, immigration is not a partisan issue.  Members are going to be pressed from so many sides, that it is unlikely the immigration debate will fill the same mold as the health care debate.  Perhaps a Catholic Member will be persuaded by someone like Cardinal Mahony.  Perhaps a member representing a rural district in Wisconsin will be persuaded by his dairy farmers.  Or perhaps a decision to reach out to the fastest-growing segment of the electorate will win a vote. 


Let's see what really happens once the dust storm kicked up by the health care debate settles.

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