Why Moving Immigration Reform Would Be a Disaster in the Making
Arizona’s anti-brown-folks law has pushed comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) to the front burner (or at least a discussion about whether to go for it in this Congress).
You’re not going to get 57 Dems, Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders to come together in the Senate — forget Jon Tester and Jim Webb — so in order to pass something, you’d need the support of several Republicans in an election year, which is about as likely as Scarlett Johansen coming to my door and begging me to sleep with her.
But some Democrats sense an opportunity, even in defeat. If the GOP blocked a comprehensive approach to a national problem in Washington, while stoking its base with crazy laws in the states, it would set up a nice meta-narrative that could further marginalize the party among Latinos — America’s fastest-growing voting bloc — and close the enthusiasm gap between the Democratic and Republican bases.
I had a back-and-forth with Booman about this, and I think he's right that the potential political gains from a losing fight over immigration would be limited at best. And if they were to mount a fight and lose, the take-away would be that they need to be more accommodating to the Right on the next attempt.
That's the larger issue here. The Graham-Schumer bill (Graham’s since bailed) is yet another example of beginning a debate with legislation grounded firmly in the political center, or even the center-right. The tone-deaf biometric ID card may be getting a lot of negative attention today, and for good reason, but the entire bill is security heavy, and offers far too little for progressives to embrace.
If it were the final outcome of negotiations between Democratic leaders and the Blue Dog/ Republican coalition, then I could probably live with the outcome. But for the record, I’m not going to get on board only to see CIR move even further to the right.
There’s also a fairly significant portion of the immigrant rights community that sees the bill as a sell-out of immigrant communities for electoral gains. That means that we can once again expect to have a deeply divided progressive base; grassroots activists on the left will be up in arms, and with good reason.
At the same time, the Right will demonize even the most centrist approach as a liberal abomination. They’ll do that regardless of what it contains. Republicans won’t offer any bipartisan cover, so I can't see the logic of beginning the debate with a security-centric bill in an effort to win GOP support. And the whole mess would be worse than when the Dems started the health-care debate in the center, simply because this issue is much more polarizing.
I’d like to see Democrats start the debate by at least articulating what a progressive and humane approach to controlling the flow of immigrants into the United States would look like. That would change the debate from “pro-” versus “anti-illegal-immigrant” — an enduring strawman — to effective versus brain-dead legislation.
It would reframe the debate in another vitally important way. In the real world, Congress hasn’t considered an amnesty for unauthorized immigrants in over 20 years, yet much of the opposition to CIR — at least on the Right — is based on the Big Lie that it is in fact an amnesty bill.
So what if Democrats actually proposed amnesty as a starting point? If you can articulate a vision of how to control future flows of new immigrants, then you can rightfully argue that a simple amnesty is the easiest, cheapest and most efficient way of dealing with those who have already been in the country for at least a couple of years.
That highlights the fact that there are real and substantial differences between a simple amnesty and the complicated “path to citizenship” called for in CIR. And it shows that CIR is exactly what its proponents say it is: a grand bargain between left and right. It’s not a liberal approach at all. You won’t get the Blue Dogs to come along, but having that debate among Dems would achieve the same effect.
As I’ve written many, many times, the key to the whole immigration debate (at least the one the public follows) is this: large bipartisan majorities support the idea of CIR when they know what it really is, and large bipartisan majorities oppose it when they believe it grants unauthorized immigrants amnesty.
Once you’ve redrawn the debate along those lines, then you can make concessions to immigration restrictionists along the way — you give up amnesty in exchange for a path to citizenship — and end up with a centrist bill that looks like the one they’re starting with at the end of the process.
On a related subject, this is an interesting angle to AZ’s immigration law:
In less than two months, the Arizona Rookie League begins its season. Nearly 140 young players born and raised in Spanish-speaking countries will congregate in Phoenix and its suburbs for their first taste of professional baseball. They may do so as the nation’s most controversial law – the one that says some people who look like them are most certainly not welcome – goes into effect in late July.
Baseball’s entanglement in Arizona’s new immigration measure, Senate Bill 1070, goes well beyond the small swath of protestors demanding Major League Baseball pull the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix and boycott Arizona Diamondbacks games. More than 1,000 players, and hundreds more executives, coaches, trainers and business staff, spend about eight weeks of spring training in the Phoenix area. Latin Americans represent 25-plus percent of major league players, and the percentage in the minor leagues is even higher. The sweeping reform, which critics say invites racial profiling, is almost certain to hit baseball if the federal government doesn’t intervene.
It’s a widely held belief that economic and political sanctions did in South Africa’s Apartheid system. The reality is that the international boycott against South African sports teams — particularly football teams — played a far greater role in ending Apartheid than the (easily circumvented) economic sanctions ever did.