This Historic Conjuncture on Immigration Reform for Latinos
Peruvian Russian spies, massive oil ejaculations, the Puerto Rican US citizen who was arrested in Chicago for being a Mexican illegal, Arizona’s anti-Mexican law, Rolling Stone magazine becoming a major foreign affairs journal, the rise of the 3D movie, Mel Gibson’s adding “wetback” to his public discourse, and other developments that made the last few months so interesting that it’s hard to believe making sense of it all is hardly worth the effort. But at least for Latinos, making sense of it all is something we must always attempt to do if only to see if we can in order to figure out how to navigate through it all. Such is the case with immigration.
As the impatience of the Latino community on the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform began reaching an all-time high, Republicans in Arizona went out of their way to help by passing SB 1070. This set in motion a series of events that has resulted in making immigration potentially the top issue in this November’s Congressional elections. President Obama was forced to make a major immigration re-statement at American University, followed up by the Justice Department suing Arizona to block the bill. The American public supports the Arizona bill and the adoption of federal immigration reform, while Latinos oppose the Arizona bill and support immigration reform.
On the heels of mobilizing in an unprecedented way for the 2010 Census and health insurance reform, Latino leaders have mobilized to oppose the Arizona bill, including calling for a boycott of the state and launching a bunch of lawsuits to stop the bill, while pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. In the process, people like Congressman Luis Gutierrez have emerged as major national leaders and even the United Farmworkers (UFW) has gotten on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report to challenge Americans to take the jobs that the undocumented do in the fields.
All the pundits in the media are sure that Obama’s push for immigration reform is doomed, at least for this year. They speculate that this could hurt Democrats in November and some see it as the President and Democratic Party’s cynical effort at pandering to the growing Latino vote. With the Tea Party and Sara Palin on their extreme right flank, the Republicans are thirsty for their return to power, stuck with a merit-less and bumbling affirmative action chairman in Michael Steele, but are counter-intuitively trying to figure out ways to attract Latino voters as well. The result, whether successful or not, will be a crop of conservative Latino politicians endorsed by the Republican Party possibly in greater numbers than ever before. Will this leave us with a significant rise on Latino conservatism to challenge the existing unreconstructed Latino neo-New Deal consensus?
So, what are the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform this year? While many point to the support that the Arizona bill has as proof that national immigration reform will go nowhere any time soon, what they seem to forget is that support for the Arizona bill is basically in protest against the lack of federal action. While many of the Arizona law supporters frame the debate in enforcement-only terms, the majority of the American public supports developing a path to citizenship. The recent corporate-based coalition led by NYC Mayor Bloomberg calling for a comprehensive approach underlines the practical economic rationale for such reform. In broad terms, the evidence is that there is widespread support for federal immigration reform and majority support for a comprehensive approach. The elements for supporting federal reform seem to be there, something I wouldn’t have predicted six months ago.
The Latino vote will clearly be an important factor. But despite the potential for reform that now exists, one doesn’t get the sense that the Latino leadership across the country is coalescing yet into one large united voice and force. Different organizations are providing poll findings on Latino voters, this or that Latino leader is making a statement, a bunch of groups are suing, websites are popping up all over the place, and so on. The mainstream media, for one thing, is not be challenged to provide more Latino voices on this issue (it was a bit frightening to see Univision’s Jorge Ramos as the sole Latino on a recent Face the Nation and O’Reilly Factor when we have much stronger and progressive spokespersons).
Given the historic nature of the current conjuncture, can the considerable political and economic talent in the Latino community coalesce in a way we have never seen before to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality soon? While Latinos cannot do this alone, the President, our allies and the American public need to see a community that is strategically well organized and clearly projects one voice on this issue.