What Next? Immigration Reform

What should the Obama administration and congressional leaders push next, now that they have won the health care debate? Finance reform passed a Senate panel yesterday, and it is undoubtedly needed, but the bill passed on a straight party-line vote and finance reform is another highly complicated issue. The President needs to change not just the tone in Washington, but that dynamic of partisan fratricide, and he needs an issue that does not paint him and his party as the champions of big government. They should take up immigration reform.

Immigration reform? Another highly contentious issue? Another tough, tough vote for key congressmen in some swing districts? Why would they pursue that?


First and foremost, the administration should lead next with immigration reform because it is the right thing to do and can be defended as such. The numbers supporting health care grew only after the White House got out of the wonk weeds and began defending the reforms as the right thing to do. People like it when you stand up for your principles.

Second, immigration reform plays against type. Much of the president’s loss in popularity among Independent voters has been the result of the GOP’s ability to tag him as the defender of old-style, big government solutions. But, in the immigration debate, it is the government that needs to be reined in. Currently, in these horrific immigration raids, parents are separated from their children, and wives from their husbands, because different members of the same family have a different legal status. You don’t have to be a Tea Party advocate to think that it is creepy to have the government officials separating kids from their parents. Which leads to the third point.

Separating families is not only un-American it is unchristian. The big pro-immigrant March last Sunday was largely organized by churches, and it began with an interfaith prayer service. The Catholic Church has long been a leader in advocating on behalf of immigrants’ rights and after the bruising fight on health care, moving on to immigration would give both sides a reason to let bygones be bygones. Evangelical Christians, who tend to line up on the Republican side of most issues, are also increasingly in favor of immigration reform as their own churches fill with Latino families. If the President does decide to push for immigration reform, he should begin with a speech in Pottstown, Iowa where an immigration raid destroyed the local community. He should give the speech on the steps of St. Brigid’s church with the evangelical pastor and Catholic priests standing behind him and a group of children whose parents were taken away in front of him. Quote from the Book of Exodus. Make the debate personal and cast it in explicitly moral terms because it is personal and it is an explicitly moral issue.

Fourth, moving on immigration reform energizes Latinos to vote in November and divides the GOP. God bless Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC, for recognizing the need for the GOP to get on the pro-immigration bandwagon. He does not have many joiners at this point. Even John McCain, who once embraced the issue, has had to back off, at least until after his primary in which he faces a hard-right challenger. Nonetheless, there is some, albeit not much, bipartisan support for reform. And, if the rest of the GOP wants to place itself in the anti-immigrant camp and push the fastest growing section of the electorate into the welcoming arms of the Democratic Party, so be it. I need scarcely add that immigration reform is the kind of issue that creates political loyalties that last at least two generations. But, Democrats need that loyalty now as well as in 30 years. The GOP base is energized and no one doubts the Tea Party crowd will be out in force in November. Energizing Latino voters helps Democrats in critical swing districts in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, California, Florida and even in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania where significant pockets of Latino voters could tip a low-turnout midterm election.

I have a soft-spot in my heart for cap-and-trade legislation, but it has already been tagged as a jobs-killer and that is surely the most toxic label to possess in this economy. It also is more complicated and would invite the wonk who lives inside President Obama’s brain to resurface when the last month has showed us the nation needs to see less of the wonk and more of the politician, the very well-informed politician, but the politician nonetheless. It would energize the Sierra Club, but the issue lacks the visceral quality of the immigration debate. Immigration reform also invites the kind of racist bad behavior on display this past weekend outside the Capitol, and it is in the Democrats’ political interest to have the GOP explaining away the extremists in their base rather than attacking the Democrats. Exposing the moral bankruptcy and ugliness of the nativists is always a fine civic goal.

Yes, immigration reform would be another tough vote for some members of Congress. But, as noted, many of the swing districts are in areas with large Latino populations and the vote is not that tough if you represent Arizona. And, with some Republican support in both chambers, the Democrats could give a pass to some of their members from rural areas in the Northeast and Midwest where the issue is not so popular. Besides, after Sunday, isn’t it clear that Speaker Pelosi could pass almost anything through Congress? There must be an understandable psychological desire to rest on one’s laurels, and to not want to force another tough vote on her caucus. That desire should be resisted.

There is an analogy, an inexact one to be sure, from history that suggests itself. In the spring of 1945, it became obvious that the Soviet Union, whose Red Army was in effective control of Poland, had no intention of allowing free and fair elections in that country, nor of allowing the "London Poles" who represented the pre-war government to interfere with the puppet regime the Soviets had set up in Lublin. Tensions between the Soviets and her Western Allies mounted almost as soon as the ambiguous protocols were signed at Yalta. Then, one of those earth-shattering moments occurred that has the potential to change everything: Franklin Roosevelt died.

British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden was in Washington and he telegraphed Prime Minister Winston Churchill about the political consequences of FDR’s demise: "Stettinius [the U.S. Secretary of State] said that both Stalin and Molotov had shown signs of being deeply moved by the President’s death. Stalin had asked Harriman [the U.S. ambassador to Moscow] whether there was any contribution he could make at a moment like this to assist to promote the unity of the great Allies. Stettinius said that fortunately Harriman had not at once replied ‘Poland,’ but instead had suggested that it would be a good thing if Molotov could come to San Francisco for the Conference [on the United Nations]." I do not see why it was fortunate that Harriman did not say "Poland."  What if Harriman had said it to Molotov? Would it have made a difference? Probably not. We know for sure that the negotiations in San Francisco did nothing for the Poles. But, the point is this: After an earth-shaking event, and the passage of health care is such an event, the landscape is so changed that political actors are inclined to seek stability even when the times call for thinking big. Immigration reform is big. The President should put it next on the agenda.

Michael Sean Winters


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Gabriel Marcella
8 years 10 months ago
As an immigrant who is thankful for the opportunities offered by this great country I support reform. Much of the economic and cultural dynamism in our society comes from immigrants, legal and illegal. Moreover, note the salience of Hispanic names in the list of the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are many injustices and anomalies that need to addressed through the highly partisan political process and the reemergence of some ugly nativism during a time of economic stress. Any appeal for reform must therefore be bi-partisan and must emphasize the positive benefits of legalization of millions of people. There is much misinformation and deliberate distortion of the complex issues. If the President is going to speak in Pottstown, Iowa he should also give a speech at Ellis Island in order to affirm the beauty of the immigrant character of our nation.
Michael Erickson
8 years 10 months ago
By the way...it's Postville, IA.
The raid that occured almost two years ago and its aftermath is a living illustration of what is wrong with our immigration policy. They came in helicopters and were dressed in full assault gear. Families were ripped apart, in spite of immigration's claims that they were not. When families tried to get information about their arrested family members, including such basic information as to where they being held, they were given the run around. Some families were not able to know where or see their arrested family member for almost a year. Those who were not deported were kept in town with ankle bracelets waiting to testify at the trial of the CEO of the plant...waiting with no recourse for work or for providing for themselves other than that of the local Catholic church, St. Bridget. Then, after being held for almost two years, it was determmined that the government had all the info they needed and they are being deported without their stories being told in a court of law.
Anyone who thinks immigration reform isn't needed should come to Postville and talk to those who have been working so hard to provide for people who had their lives, their families torn apart in the name of law and order.
8 years 10 months ago
So much folly, so little time.
I think the most disturbing thing about this post is its misreading of the resolved of the author's OWN party.
Oh, and Michael, the GOP is already "pro-immigration" - its for the legal entry of anyone who wants to come to this great country, especially those who have the knowledge to create high-tech jobs.  We're all for that!
I won't begin to tackle the "separation of families" argument.  Don't many of these people LEAVE their families in their native countries? I seem to recall a study saying that most undocumented persons, at least from Mexico, frequently go back and forth because their families are still in Mexico.  But the point, I suspect, is, like in health care with the horror stories trotted out, not to educate or enlighten but to obfuscate and confuse.
James Lindsay
8 years 10 months ago
Immigration reform should be next. I don't think, however, that most Tea Partiers would regard INS efforts at deportation to be creepy, since the TPers have picked up many members of the militia movement.

There are many who think it would be immoral to allow a path for citizenship to undocumented workers. This is a misreading of morality, since it is not immoral to violate an unjust law. Indeed, the law here is nefarious since, along with right to work laws, it encourages both human trafficking and employer use of undocumented (and docile) workers.

I fear the best we can get is the recently announced bipartisan proposal in the Senate, which is way too punitive to workers already here. Indeed, its exceptions make it likely that some will still be held in bondage after it is passed. The real answer would be the repeal of all immigration restrictions and of right to work (hire slave) laws at the federal level and the passage of Card Check as part of it. I will take what we can get, however, since even after reform the population of anchor babies will one day be voting age and the "culturally conservative" enemies of reform will be outvoted in most of the south and west.
8 years 10 months ago
Michael is right. Tea party and 'baby killer shouting' Texans are not going to abide Un-documented reform. After the USCCB's bad mouthing health reform  do you think  anyone will answer their phone calls in the House, Senate, WH about taking up immigration reform? Local tel cos are now able to have certain numbers blocked from calling you. My guess there is work order now in progress from blocking calls from a certain NE Wash DC address to the Government offices. .    :0) 
8 years 10 months ago
Man, the tone of some of these comments has really turned in the last couple of days.  I like to think I'm a moderate with respect to immigration reform. That is, I find myself somewhere between the position of the Church and the very liberal, no-restrictions-policy and the standard conservative policy.  Both, it seems to me, are out of the mainstream (since when does the crowd reading this blog object to one not towing the Bishops' line fully).  Yes, no one wants families "torn apart" or people "criminalized" for being poor. BUT, this country has NEVER had an open-door immigration policy, and I daresay most people don't think it should.  That's not the same as saying we shouldn't have common sense, legal reform.  Some of the comments here assume a strange, almost metaphysical, dichotomy between "law" and "moral policy".  Immigration must be regulated legally (how else do you do it?) in a way that respects the dignity of persons.  There must be a way to do this without veering off too far in either direction.
Michael Erickson
8 years 10 months ago
In Postville, our lawful policy has been shown to be immoral.
I really like what the Bishops have to say about immigration policy and welcome common sense reforms that show the dichotomy of law and moral policy to be a false one.
Michael Cremin
8 years 10 months ago
I'm a 'slow and steady wins the race' sort of guy, and after today's signing of the Great Leap Forward Health Care Bill, I think the administration and their allies in Congress would be I N S A N E to take on something as emotionally charged as immigration reform.  Remember three years ago, how furious everyone was over the issue? Add amnesty to the already toxic brew floating out there in America today, and I am afraid that there will be violence. These are scary days. I pray for our country.
(By the way, if someone is going to respond to this post with "It's all their [Tea Party, Socialists, GOP, Dems] fault!", please don't bother. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." -Shakespeare, Julius Caesar)
Vince Killoran
8 years 10 months ago
Why all the political labelling?  "This is too far left"; "Your position is out of the mainstream"; "That is the conservative line."  Just make your argument already-it should stand on its merits, not on how you hope to marginalize another blogger based on there political identities(real or imagined).  It's a  weak rhetorical ploy and a distraction to the flow of conversation.


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