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Losing Steam: Vaunted Anti-Immigrant Movement Marginalized By a Serious Bipartisan Legislative Debate

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There has been a persistent myth in the immigration debate that the anti-reform side is large, powerful, and organized.  However, the 2013 immigration debate is revealing that assessment is profoundly untrue.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

The Senate Judiciary Committee markup confirms what we already knew – this year’s reform debate is a serious and bipartisan effort, while the marginalized anti-reform movement is sitting at the kids’ table.  Instead of gaining traction, they are spinning its wheels.  When reform opponents hold rallies, no one shows up.  When they testify at congressional hearings, it’s with the same tired cast of characters and the same discredited talking points.  And when they rally around a political candidate, that candidate often loses.

On the other side, the pro-immigrant coalition is larger, more powerful, and better organized than ever and is led by a movement of immigrants, their family members, and their allies – all of whom care profoundly about passing immigration reform and are working tirelessly to do so.  The growing list of reform supporters includes law enforcement, faith, national security, business, and labor representatives, as well as a growing chorus of conservative thought leaders and Republican voices, who recognize that the reform legislation moving forward is good policy, smart economics, and necessary politics.

While the legislative debates ahead in the Senate and House of Representatives will be at points contentious, the outside pressures and forces on the policymaking process are decidedly in favor of the pro-reform side.  Among the key and related developments:

  • Anti-immigrant rallies are fizzling in a major way: Opponents of immigration held a national press day against the immigration reform bill this past Tuesday.  Despite its label as a national event, many states failed to hold a rally or a protest (including in states with a Senator on the Judiciary Committee, such as Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, Utah, and Vermont).  And in the states that did hold a rally, most events were small and barely made a ripple in local and state media.  Where journalists were present at rallies, they focused on the low turnout at the rally – such as this rally in Washington state, which the Yakima Herald-Republic (WA) said drew “[a]bout five protesters.”  In February, we wrote about a similar ALIPAC protest that initially boasted of 20,000 people promising to attend events nationwide – only to deliver an embarrassingly low total (28 in California, 22 in Colorado, 6 in Louisiana, 5 in North Carolina, 4 in Georgia, 2 in Oklahoma, “a few” in Minnesota, and only 1 in Montana and Washington).
  • Jim DeMint and the anti-reform movement’s failure to launch vs. the growing conservative pro-reform ranks:  As we have noted, the botched rollout and concerted pushback to the discredited Heritage Foundation report on the economic impact of immigration reform was a game-changer for immigration reform.  While Heritage’s embattled President and former Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) has joined with a smattering of conservative talk show hosts and journalists to rail against immigration reform, conservative thought leaders are increasingly coming out in favor of reform. The latest example is a new letter released today by the American Action Forum and signed by over 100 conservative economists that notes that immigration reform’s “positive impact on population growth, labor force growth, housing, and other markets will lead to more rapid economic growth.  This, in turn, translates into a positive impact on the federal budget.”
  • National Republican operatives read no further – Tom Tancredo is running for Governor, again: Tom Tancredo is set to announce today that he will run for Governor in Colorado.  After a spectacular failure of a presidential campaign in 2008 on a single issue, anti-immigrant platform, Tancredo then ran a similarly quixotic and ineffective campaign for Colorado Governor in 2010, losing in lopsided fashion.  Colorado, in recent months, has demonstrated that it has little tolerance for the Tancredo worldview.  Just in 2013, the state has passed a state tuition bill for undocumented students and brought a bill allowing immigrants to drive to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk.  And as Kurtis Lee at the Denver Post noted, the national GOP is trying to stay far away from anti-immigrant zealots like Tancredo and ideas like his claim that immigrants are “coming here to kill you, and you, and me, and my grandchildren.”  For a national Republican party that is trying to distance itself from such associations, the Tancredo re-emergence is an unwelcome development.
  • For once, we agree with Senator Jeff Sessions:  Reflecting on the legislative the markup process on display in the Senate Judiciary Committee the past two weeks (resulting in a bipartisan 13-5 vote to move the amended immigration bill to the Senate floor), the leading opponent in the Committee, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R), told CNN: “I’ve never seen a more calculated, cold-blooded p.r. campaign managed to advance a piece of legislation than this one.  The political consultants and pollsters and people (managing the bill) … anticipated everything that was going to occur … They planned on careful attacks to neutralize critics.”  For once, we agree with Senator Sessions, although in place of “calculated” and “cold-blooded” we would use “patriotic” and “broad-based.”  His side of the debate is increasingly irrelevant to the serious legislative process unfolding and is being outflanked by a strong bipartisan reform effort.