|By Elena Shore
New America Media
Apr 08, 2010
Some say this is the wrong time to talk about immigration reform. Congress just passed a huge overhaul of the nation’s health care system; Republicans and Democrats in Congress seem more divided than ever; the country is still in a recession; and it’s an election year.
But with the decks seemingly stacked against them, immigration reform advocates told members of the U.S. ethnic media Monday that they intend to keep up the pressure on legislators to enact immigration reform in 2010.
Congress is now “very fraught with partisan divides and, in the shambles of the health care debate, a lot of animosity,” Jeanne Butterfield, legislative director of the Reform Immigration FOR America campaign, acknowledged during a telebriefing organized by New America Media.
Yet immigrant communities are “virtually under siege, with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) actions coming down on people’s heads on a daily basis,” she said.
There is “huge momentum coming out of [March] 21st,” when 200,000 people marched in Washington, D.C., to demand immigration reform, said Gabe Gonzalez of the Center for Community Change.
The rallies in Washington, D.C., and other cities showed that “communities everywhere are ready to engage in a battle of epic proportions,” according to Jorge-Mario Cabrera, communications director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) in Los Angeles.
In order to remind Congress that immigration reform must be a priority, Gonzalez said his organization is keeping in “constant contact” with legislators; participating in rallies on April 10 in Seattle, Chicago and Las Vegas; and issuing report cards to members of Congress on May 1, the day when widespread demonstrations in support of immigration reform are expected to take place across the country.
A recent op-ed in the Washington Post, written by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham, the two senators who are proposing immigration reform, was another step forward, said advocates of immigration reform. President Obama singled out that proposal as a starting point for reform in his videotaped message to the rallies on March 21.
“We were happy to see them advance the ball another few yards,” said Karen Narasaki, president of the Asian American Justice Center.
Some immigration activists have expressed concern that the op-ed was too conservative and did not bode well for any ultimate bill. Butterfield said that the op-ed was “heavy on enforcement language,” but this, she said, was because “it was talking to an unconvinced public or middle, swing voters perhaps, who need to understand that fixing the broken system is in fact the best way to assure that we have a set of laws that can be enforced.”
The Schumer-Graham blueprint also does not mention fixing the family visa system, a key concern for many Asian communities. According to Narasaki, however, this part of the proposal will be outlined after looking at the issue of how to expand the number of work visas.
A report released last week by the Office of the Inspector General found that the agencies participating in the 287(g) program — which authorizes local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws – were “not operating in compliance with the terms of the agreements” and that ICE “had not instituted controls to promote effective program operations and address related risks.”
In other words, Butterfield said, the report found that the 287(g) program “lacked accountability and oversight,” and gave a “scathing indictment of 287(g).” What comes of the report remains to be seen. But activists took that as further proof of the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
But some are skeptical that immigration reform could be enacted before the November elections.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., recently said the best time to enact immigration reform would be “in November, right after the elections.”
“I think there are a bunch of people who are retiring who would cast votes (because) their heart and their intellect tell them it is the right thing, but their politics might have told them no,” Menedez told the New Jersey Star-Ledger last week.
For now, the possibility of bipartisan reform looks slim. According to Butterfield, there are only 10 to 12 Republicans who have either voted for comprehensive immigration reform in the past or are considered possible supporters this time around.
For a bill that depends on bipartisan support, this could be problematic.
But it’s a “chicken and egg” scenario, cautioned Butterfield: Senators will tend to support a bill that they think has the potential to move; but in order to move, the bill needs to have enough support.
“The math has to add up to 60” in order to pass the bill in the Senate, said Butterfield, “so however many Democrats we don’t get, that’s how many Republicans we need.”
Meanwhile, on the ground, ICE actions are continuing under the Obama administration in high numbers. Recently publicized ICE memos suggest that the agency is setting new quotas for agents to increase deportations.
“The perception in this Latino community,” said Leslie Layton, editor of ChicoSol in Chico, Calif., “is that it’s retaliation for the rallies in March.”
Cabrera of CHIRLA, who was among a cohort of immigrant rights leaders that met with Obama at the White House last month, said that according to the president’s own statements, it appears that the ICE actions will not stop. The fact that there was no moratorium on ICE raids for the 2010 Census, Cabrera added, shows that the agency has no plans to halt enforcement.
“The response [from the president] is, ‘What do you want me to do? Not enforce the law?’” said Cabrera. “We say, ‘It’s hard to enforce unjust laws justly.’”