Celebrate Victory, then All Hands on Deck for Immigration Reform
By Al Giordano
While so much of the US news media was understandably focused on the Health Care Reform debate on Capitol Hill, and a few thousand (and that’s a generous head count) tea-bagger protesters against it, also in eyeshot from Congress today, one half million strong rallied for immigration reform.
You can see that much larger group in the photo above. I didn’t want to let this day pass without making sure they were seen and heard here.
Unlike the decimal-sized gaggle of tea-baggers, not one immigration reformer shouted “nigger” at civil rights hero John Lewis, not one yelled “faggot” at Barney Frank, and certainly none slurred Congressman Ciro Rodríguez as a “wetback.” None of the peaceful demonstrators for Immigration Reform held up placards with pistols on them threatening violence, as was cheered at a tea-bagger demo on Saturday.
According to the local Fox news affiliate (not a network known to exaggerate progressive head counts), the Immigration Reform marchers numbered half-a-million strong. They showed, as they have since May 1, 2006, their superior discipline and mobilizing capacity to that of any other movement or cause in the United States in recent decades.
Although many members of the Hispanic Caucus in the US House have declared, again and again, that their number-one priority is legislating a path for citizenship for twelve million undocumented Americans, they unanimously showed up and supported the Health Care Reform legislation and its reconciliation bill tonight. They did so even after swallowing defeats and compromises that blocked so many undocumented Americans from access to the newly legislated improvements in the Health Care system.
Without the votes of those 23 House members, today’s battle would not have been the historic victory for Health Care Reform that we have just lived to see.
It’s objectively true, once again, that the Democratic coalition owes them, but that is not at all the only reason why Immigration Reform must now, at this precise hour, be driven through to victory.
It is unconscionable that twelve million people – children, elders, workers, homemakers – in the United States of America are left defenseless and persecuted for simply existing. Other than the comparatively very small number of full-blooded descendants of Native Americans that are still around today, and so many African-Americans whose ancestors were kidnapped and brought to this hemisphere in chains, every single one of the rest of US citizens likewise come from immigrant stock. The injustice of deporting people who are so much like our grandparents and great grandparents is as un-American an impulse as could be exercised.
To leave the status quo in place would mean continuing to rip mothers and fathers away from their children (as happens so often when the children, having been born in the US, are citizens but the parent is not considered “legal”). And, of course, continuing such policies to their natural conclusion by attempting to deport twelve million people or even one tenth of them would be unworkable, more expensive and harmful than any of the problems such enforcement claims to cure. And that’s why, on Friday, even Republican US Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) joined with US Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) to announce their upcoming legislation in a Washington Post op ed column: The right way to mend immigration.
Beyond the policy and moral common sense of pushing immigration reform through to victory in this now historic year of 2010, there are political imperatives for progressives of opening the door so that these twelve million undocumented brothers and sisters, when they turn 18, will be able to vote alongside of us.
For the Democrats, this should be a no-brainer: The influx of newly eligible voters would turn swing states Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico deep blue. It would usher Arizona from red to blue. And it would soon enough put even Texas in the swing-state category, winnable again for Democrats.
And yet (as Graham and others have noted) it also makes sense for Republicans to get out of the way of this inevitable reform: Not to do so further alienates their chances at winning the votes of some thirty million Hispanic-Americans (and Asian-Americans and others) who are US citizens and for whom reform is a deeply personal and important matter.
It was the same right wing coalition that flooded the US Capitol switchboard in May 2007 to defeat the last push for immigration reform that in recent days and weeks attempted to do the same against Health Care Reform. Today’s vote knocks them back on their heels, off balance, demoralized and squabbling among themselves. (Wait 'til Rush Limbaugh finds out that to move to another country he will have to confront its own immigration laws!)
This is not a moment for authentically progressive Americans to rest on our laurels. It is, rather, the hour to go in for the knock-out punch and to defeat the haters and their demagogues on the very issue that they last were able to claim victory. To do so would break their spirits for a generation to come, fulfilling the hope that took its first baby step in November 2008.
Now, as with any great and sweeping change, the push for Immigration Reform is going to fray the coalition a bit, just as the push for Health Care Reform (and the New Deal and the Great Society) before that did.
When it comes to Immigration Reform, there will be those – some we might not expect yet – who will become kill-billies and behave just as hatefully and hysterically as the ones we’ve just seen implode over Health Care. Some will attempt to toss grenades into the process and claim their pot shots are from “the left,” or, more laughably, from “the base” - just as they did on Health Care.
Let me please serve notice to each and every one of you on this historic night when we have the Health Care victory fresh in our hands. We will either convince you (nice to have you on board for the final battle, Dennis, Howard and others) or we will roll right over you (I’m lookin’ at you, fire-baggers and tea-baggers alike).
Lead, follow or get out of the way, but Immigration Reform is coming.
I leave you with this image of the president with a fallen friend, the one who was the champion both of Health Care Reform and of Immigration Reform…
When we are moving forward, we keep moving forward.
Field Hands, community organizers, readers, colleagues and friends: in the words of that old gospel spiritual, one that also represents the historic best of the United States of America that we saw revived tonight: “People get ready, there’s a train a ‘comin’, you don’t need no ticket, you just get on board…”
Update: Here's video from yesterday's immigration reform rally with the videotaped message from the President:
Key words: "This year."