Whither Immigration Reform?

There has been an undercurrent of anxiety about the prospects for immigration reform following last week’s Republican Senate victory in Massachusetts. I’m far from a political junkie–even five minutes of cable new coverage makes my head hurt–but despite my cultivated political ignorance, I think it worth making a few points in support of pushing for reform in 2010.

Reason #1: It cuts across traditional Democrat/Republican voting patterns.

One of the things I hate about politics in the US is how predictable everyone’s views are, with votes often splitting down party lines. Immigration is one of those issues that isn’t so neat and tidy. And there’s reason for optimism, as a recent poll shows over 60% of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents support what is called “a pathway to legalization.”

Now, I usually pay no attention to polling, because the whole phenomenon is unbearably boring and depressing. But that doesn’t mean I won’t cite a poll or two if it supports something that I think is worth doing anyway…

Reason #2: Latinos

Let’s face it: lots of politicians are scared of Latinos. Scared that as a population they’re growing fast, scared of what it might mean for the future of this country – hell, probably even scared when they overhear Spanish being spoken in the grocery aisle. But as good politicians, what frightens them to no end is losing an election. The inescapable fact is that a party that demonizes immigrants or puts up an ugly fight (and this fight will quickly get ugly: I’m looking at you, tea-baggers) against immigration reform will lose any hope of earning the Latino vote for a long time.

Reason #3: Folks seem to be organized

I’ve been following semi-regularly the blog of Reform Immigration for America, the umbrella network of groups working for reform. It’s been pretty impressive to see the number of places that have been holding events of late in support of reform; especially noteworthy is the very active participation of churches and labor. Thus far, much of the activity has been below the radar of the large media, which is understandable given the current health care debacle. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as there’s a difference between gaining media coverage and building a movement. My sense right now is that there is a lot of unseen work going on in living rooms and Sunday services, recruiting people while also preparing for a fight.

Reason #4: Enough with the realpolitik–it’s the right thing to do

Truth be told, this is the one I really care about. Studying polls and demographic trends might raise the heart rates of political science folks, but what really gives me hope for the chances of reform is the moral imperative. That, and the fact that life is unpredictable (who would have thought, for example, that Ted Kennedy’s seat would be won by a Republican?). Every successful movement for social justice started out with long odds. Imagine if the women that called the Montgomery Bus Boycott had waited until polling demonstrated they had a certain victory before taking action…


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