Thursday, January 22, 2009

¡Sí, se puede! Now Is the Time!

In a Mercury News article about Wednesday's marches for immigration reform, Juliana Barbassa quotes a scholar from the Foreign Policy Research Institute: "Go down to the unemployment office and ask what people lined up think of immigration reform—you'll get an earful. . . . It's the wrong time, at the wrong place, and the wrong issue to invest your political capital now." Bull hockey (ahem). I heartily disagree. Al contrario, this is exactly the right moment. Exactly.

Ah, well, consider the source: According to, the FPRI is a conservative think tank, "an activist organization driven by its own ideology." It describes itself as being "devoted to bringing the insights of scholarship to bear on the development of policies that advance U.S. national interests" and lists as one of its goals to "shape the national debate on foreign policy through frequent appearances in the national news media."

So what we have here is the FPRI seeking to "shape the national debate." That has been much of our problem: not that we are widely opposed, but that we are noisily opposed. In other words, we are being bullied. Can I please hear a loud "Stop that!" from all good people of common decency and good sense?! Thank you.

In fact, while the most recent attempt at immigration reform was still before Congress in 2007, according to a CBS poll, "most Americans surveyed support measures contained in the bill, including a guest worker program and the possibility of permanent residency for illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the U.S." Granted that our economy is in much worse shape now than it was then, but there is no indication that vast numbers of the American people have changed their minds about this issue as a result of the economic downturn.

Decent, good-hearted American people—that is, the majority of Americans—understand that immigration is a very complex issue and that unauthorized immigrants don't come here on a whim or because they were bored down south.

But there are some bullies in our midst, and unfortunately they're very noisy. They would like you to think that they're in the majority, that the American people will not tolerate immigration reform while the economy is in such terrible shape. This is the reality that they are actively trying to bring into being just by repeating it over and over again. Please, do not let them.

In an article posted on the Rockridge Institute website, George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson make some excellent suggestions for how we can be the ones to shape the national debate:
  • Address the issue as one of globalization. "If capital is going to freely cross borders, should people and labor be able to do so as well, going where globalization takes the jobs?"
  • Address the issue as a humanitarian crisis involving "mass migration and displacement of people from their homelands at a rate of 800,000 people a year. . . . As a humanitarian crisis, the solution could involve the UN or the Organization of American States."
  • Address immigration as a civil rights issue. "For the most part, [the 12 million immigrants living in the U.S. without authorization] are assimilated into the American system, but are forced to live underground and in the shadows because of their legal status. They are denied ordinary civil rights."
  • Address immigration as a "cheap labor issue." "Undocumented immigrants allow employers to pay low wages, which in turn provide the cheap consumer goods we find at WalMart and McDonald's. They are part of a move towards the cheap lifestyle, where employers and consumers find any way they can to save a dollar, regardless of the human cost."
Activating these frames rather than the old "they're eating our pie" frame will help us to reshape the national debate and enable lawmakers to enact just, compassionate, and pragmatic immigration reform.

One of the primary reasons that now is the time to push for a just and humane immigration policy is that the Democrats would not have had such a sweeping victory in November had it not been for Latino voters, for whom immigration reform is an especially high priority. In other words, we have some political capital right this instant. We mustn't let it slip away.

The FPRI and myriad nativist hate groups recognize that political capital, and they're afraid. So they are using their well-practiced tactics to try to convince us and everyone else that now is not the time and that we have no political capital. They know that the momentum is with us. They know that our time is now.

The following quotation, as big as life, appears on the page describing the Obama administration's agenda regarding immigration:
The time to fix our broken immigration system is now. … We need stronger enforcement on the border and at the workplace. … But for reform to work, we also must respond to what pulls people to America. … Where we can reunite families, we should. Where we can bring in more foreign-born workers with the skills our economy needs, we should.
—Barack Obama, Statement on U.S. Senate Floor, May 23, 2007
I could do without the bit about "stronger enforcement," but remember this was before the launch of the horrendous ICE raids. I'm heartened by Obama's pragmatism as well as his refreshing willingness to see the complexities involved: "For reform to work, we must also respond to what pulls people to America."

And of course, our president will never forget that he himself is the son of an immigrant. The Day of the Immigrant in America is indeed at hand. The time is now. Now! That's what he said. Well, actually, he said "now" way back in 2007. In which case, the time is past due.

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