Unlikely Coalition on Immigration Reform Rising Rapidly
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Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.
"We were the red-headed stepchild of the left," says Patty Kupfer, managing director of America's Voice. She means not only her organization but also other immigration reform advocates. "Nobody wanted to hang out with us." Her tone connotes crisis and flashbacks to empty cups of coffee and lost sleep. She hastily lists the blows to the immigration coalition in that fraught period of late 2009 and early 2010: "The DREAM Act failed on the floor of the Senate; Arizona laws were being spread across the country and we figured we'd be fighting back against terrible legislation for the next five to ten years." She and her cohort, of course, figured wrong. If it was once the red-headed stepchild of the left, immigration reform has become, in three short years, the belle of the bipartisan ball.
Yes, bipartisan, and you'd better know about it. The "bipartisan nature" of the recently proposed legislation has become a ubiquitous tagline for all things immigration reform. Meanwhile, the proposal's bipartisan octet ensemble, the Gang of 8 senators, has performed pleasantry and benevolent compromise at every turn. Amid daunting political gridlock, it's unsurprising that bipartisanship has become an ever-more lofty and mythological pursuit, thus glorying those members of Congress who shine under its divine glow. After all, legislators are still smarting from wounds inflicted by the sequester, a not-so-subtle symbol of dysfunction that demonstrated that even the politicians - those who have to participate in the cynical choreography of endless donor calls and nods to party orthodoxy - underestimated their inability to perform the primary task for which they were elected: pass laws. This is not to say that, in the case of immigration reform, the moniker of bipartisanship is trumped up or insincere. No, this reform has a good chance of becoming the first major item of domestic policy to pass Congress with bipartisan support since Obama wafted into office on America's wistful desire for a change to politics as usual.
But if we zoom out the lens - pressing that minus button on Google maps until Washington, DC stands as a small, indiscernible blip in the massive United States - then the coalition behind immigration reform looks less like a marriage between red and blue and more like a kaleidoscopic assortment of very strange bedfellows. Just for starters, the coalition includes business interests like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association, labor interests like the AFL-CIO and SEIU, immigration advocacy groups like United We Dream, and even religious organizations like the Evangelical Immigration Table. America's Voice is the mouthpiece for this amalgam. It is her job to consolidate the views of these allied groups into a concise, effective message for pressuring elected officials and beltway politicos. Suffice it to say, she knows the coalition well. "There's a lot of groups in places like Los Angeles that have tremendous power and have been deeply rooted for years," she points out. "And then there's other less traditional places, like Nebraska and Alabama, where great stuff is happening."
Another one of those less traditional places is Georgia, where for the last ten years they've had a Republican governor and Republican majorities in the State House and Senate. Charlie Flemming, the president of the Georgia AFL-CIO, readily admits that "Georgia is own of the worst states toward immigrants." Yet even in this toxic environment, there stands a robust on-the-ground coalition demanding comprehensive immigration reform. A little less than a month ago, the AFL-CIO teamed up with the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) to hold a rally at the Capitol building in Atlanta. Over 1,000 people showed up including, as Flemming proudly recalls, "member unions, like local Teamsters and local UNITE HERE" which was a pleasant surprise in the middle of a workday on a Wednesday afternoon.