Immigration Hardliners Gearing Up to Kill Pragmatic Reform Once Again
While Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has called supporters of immigration reform to participate in a national conversation on Nov. 18, the anti-immigrant organization Americans for Legal Immigration (ALIPAC) is holding “Tea Party” protests in various states this Saturday.
With all the noise they make and the fear they inspire in Congress, one might assume the protestors numbered in the millions -- but ALIPAC’s Web site lists, as of today, 52 planned “tea parties” and around 4,500 people anticipated to attend.
Nevertheless, anti-immigrant groups remain a stumbling block for immigration reform -- and an opponent against whom supporters have to stay on guard.
This sector includes organizations, movements and institutions that range from extremist neo-Nazi groups to respected Washington, D.C.-based think tanks. There are also the legislators who often seem to be spokespeople for these organizations, some of whom make up the House of Representatives’ Immigration Reform Caucus, composed of 88 Republican and 5 Democratic members of Congress.
William Gheen, founder of ALIPAC, says that he hopes that the events of this Saturday “combined with our lobying [sic] efforts and support for campaigns will stop these attempts to destroy America through mass illegal immigration and amnesty.”
In 2006, when the Sensenbrenner proposal -- which would have criminalized undocumented immigrants -- sparked massive marches and protests, the anti-immigrant movement found itself caught off guard and could only muster a feeble response.
But when debate over reform began in the Senate in 2007, they had organized themselves to use the Internet effectively, and orchestrated massive campaigns to call and email Congressional offices.
They also forged tacit alliances with ultraconservative radio and television talk-show hosts, who continue to support them, and with so-called “journalists.”
As of this week, at least, one fewer legitimate media outlet will be providing a platform for anti-immigrant views. On Wednesday, Lou Dobbs announced his resignation from the channel--effective immediately. His departure came after months of pressure from a national coalition urging CNN to "Drop Dobbs" for disseminating lies and stereotypes about immigrants and Latinos. For years, Dobbs used his program as a bully pulpit to attack the idea of comprehensive immigration reform.
Their current status
After taking credit for the defeat of immigration reform in 2007, the anti-immigrant movement saw the rise of Barack Obama -- a Democrat, an African-American, the son of an immigrant father, and a supporter of immigration reform -- to the presidency in 2008. Furthermore, they saw the majority of their candidates in federal, state and local elections go down in defeat.
But Obama’s public-opinion “honeymoon” is over and immigration opponents are hoping to exploit the economic crisis, the spectacle of this summer’s health-care reform “town halls,” and divisions among Democrats to revive their agenda.
Accusations of racism
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights advocacy group, the core of the anti-immigrant movement is interconnected--funded by a single source.
In its report “The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance,” the SPLC reports that the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA were all created by restrictionist John Tanton, who has been linked to the Pioneer Fund, an institution that has conducted studies designed to prove the superiority of the white race.
According to SPLC’s Mark Potok, FAIR is the lobbying arm of the anti-immigrant movement; CIS is the “independent” think tank; and NumbersUSA organizes the base.
2009, a different story
The immigration opponents boast they’re ready for the battle of 2010. Their argument: With 16 million people unemployed across the country, “Americans will never accept another amnesty.”
But Rich Stolz, director of the national Reform Immigration for America campaign, points out that this time, advocates for immigration reform are ready to neutralize their attacks, drawing on the political power that Latinos and immigrant communities demonstrated in the 2008 elections.
“The campaign is gaining momentum and is active across the country in ways that would never have been possible before,” says Stolz.
Ali Noorani, director of the National Immigration Forum, concurs that this time there are more allies of reform ready to implement a three-prong strategy: “mobilize the base, win the middle, and marginalize the opposition.”
“Never before have we been able to do so much and engage so many allies. We have an incredible amount of work ahead, but we’re confident,” says Noorani.
Rafael Prieto Zartha contributed to this article.