Cepeda: Immigration reform’s long odds
CHICAGO -- For close observers of the immigration battle, the last six months have been frustrating. And if hope is its own kind of currency, much of the immigration reform movement crowd is flat broke.
You don’t have to take my word for it. The way Jorge Mujica sees it, real reform is dead in the water. Mujica, one of the masterminds behind the 2006 march in Chicago that eventually propelled millions across the country into the streets to demand immigration reform, told me, “I don’t think anything is going to happen. There’s basically no agreement on either side about anything.”
This is the understatement of the year. On the Republican side, there has been a trickle of congressmen who have said they’re ready to move forward, most notably Rep. Jeff Denham of California, who last week suggested that House Speaker John Boehner bring a pathway to citizenship vote to the floor for debate, even if most Republicans don’t support it.
On the left, the Democrats are split between whether strategy should center on compromise or political calculation and pro-immigrant activists are divided between their own willingness to find a middle ground and a grass-roots desire for quick confrontation.
“Some of us in the movement, like me, think the price (of the Senate bill) is just too high, we just do not agree on what the Senate came up with because though the good parts are good, the bad parts are incredibly bad, they basically say that you’re either legalized or a federal criminal,” Mujica said. “We’re looking for legalization with dignity, but other more powerful, well-financed interests are only making the political calculations.”
Mujica, who in his current role as a regional vice president of the Mexican American Coalition—a national organization that advances the interests of the Mexican and Mexican-American communities in the U.S.—sits at the table with many of these well-financed organizations, says they also understand the absurdity of the actual legislation, as well.
“I was recently in a meeting with several of these organizations, and we were told, ‘We know and we recognize that the bill from the Senate is pure BS, it’s really bad, but we’re supporting it, that’s the strategy,’” said Mujica.
“The large pro-immigration organizations are the ones who are based in Washington, D.C., have millions of dollars and negotiate with the Democrats. And they only care about keeping the White House and getting whatever Democratic votes they can in 2014, 2016, and 2028 and 2032, which is the time when those who were legalized now would be able to become U.S. citizens and vote.
“But we don’t need citizenship, only legal permanent residency. What the undocumented population needs is to be able to live here, work here and travel. Of course I’d like everyone to become a citizen, to register to vote and then vote, but that’s a ‘like,’ not my main concern.”
Mujica points to the other divide on the left—the controversy about the “DREAM 9,” the young unlawful immigrants who last month protested the Obama administration’s deportation policies by going to Mexico and then demanding re-entry into the United States. Though many immigrant advocacy organizations did not support their tactics, Mujica suggests it’s an example of what might work in reviving momentum toward forcing a compromise.
“Some of the DREAMers believe that direct action is what gives you results and they have proven it—in the end they won,” Mujica said, referring to the nine who gained both entry back into the U.S. and the opportunity to apply for political asylum.
“Here in Chicago, all the organizers are grappling with how we can be effective in the movement so far away from the border, because that’s where all the action is going to be,” he said. “What I’m hearing is that in a few weeks, hundreds of people will be flocking to the border to demand asylum.”
According to Fox News, multiple ports of entry are already experiencing large numbers of immigrants simultaneously arriving at processing centers asking for political asylum. And it’s easy to see how even more protesters would create an international spectacle that would get immigration back onto the front burner—for better or for worse.
And that is the immigration reform battle for you: always frustrating, rarely hopeful.
Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.