Pro-Reform Movement on the March: Will Republicans Get Lifted Up or Left Behind?
The immigration movement is mobilizing like never before, demanding policy progress in Washington and throughout the country. In Washington, the political heat is melting some GOP resistance to immigration reform as more Republicans sign onto to the bipartisan HR 15 bill. House leadership says they expect to hold votes on immigration reform bills before the end of the year, but nothing has been scheduled yet. At the same time, activists in New York and Florida brought pressure to bear from the outside in. And in Alabama, a dark chapter of recent immigration history at the state level is officially closed.
Though polling captures the broad public support for reform with citizenship – across all ideologies – the breadth and diversity of the pro-reform movement is surrounding members of Congress in Washington. In an article titled, “Business-Conservative Alliance Presses for Immigration Action,” Ashley Parker of the New York Times describes that “600 leaders from roughly 40 states descended on the Capitol for meetings with nearly 150 Republican lawmakers.” Politico’s Seung Min Kim notes that the meetings are “meant to make the conservative case for immigration reform to lawmakers by bringing business experts, religious leaders and law enforcement officials to the Hill.”
Adding to the momentum in Washington is the growing support for HR15 – sensible immigration legislation comprised entirely of provisions that have attracted bipartisan support in the past. Yesterday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) became the second House Republican, after Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), to join the list of co-sponsors. Now, Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) is openly considering becoming the third House Republican to join the legislation, which is moving rapidly toward 200 co-sponsors. According to the Hanford Sentinel newspaper in his congressional district, Rep. Valadao said, “If my signing on to it helps move the [process] forward, I’m happy to do that…There are a bunch of us getting nervous. We do want to see something move forward.”
In addition, activists in Orlando, Florida and New York City took to the streets yesterday to urge legislative and administrative action that will keep families together, clear a path to citizenship and treat immigrants with dignity. In acts of civil disobedience, 15 activists in Orlando and 10 in New York City were arrested. Their courage and commitment is proof that ours is not some temporarily constructed legislative campaign, but a political movement that will continue to ratchet up the pressure until reform is enacted and immigrants win equal treatment in America.
Another sign of the times occurred in Alabama yesterday, with a huge victory for our movement’s litigators and for immigrants in the state. By way of background, several years ago, with immigration reform low on Washington’s priority list, a number of states starting filling the vacuum by advancing anti-immigrant, enforcement-only approaches. The two most notorious were Arizona’s infamous “show me your papers” SB1070 legislation and Alabama’s subsequent HB56. In Alabama, bill sponsors actually took pride in the fact that their law was more Draconian than Arizona’s approach. The Alabama law was a full-blown “self-deportation” approach that chased immigrants out of the state, required K-12 schools to report on the immigration status of schoolchildren, deprived immigrants of legal protection and rights, decimated some of Alabama’s key industries and led to crops rotting in the fields due to a shortage of workers. Last year, the Supreme Court dismantled most of SB 1070, the anti-immigrant law in Arizona that HB 56 took much of its inspiration from. A federal appeals court then struck down most of HB 56 and the Supreme Court decided not to hear further arguments on the case. Yesterday, Alabama agreed to not pursue the matter further, meaning that the most pernicious provisions are permanently blocked. This is a major victory for the pro-reform movement, who mobilized and successfully challenged the Alabama law. The development is also a significant rebuke for the anti-immigrant movement, whose “attrition through enforcement” concept embodied in Arizona and Alabama’s approach.
The dual developments – growing pressure and momentum in Washington and significant victories at the state level, underscores a larger point about immigration reform and the immigration reform movement.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
Immigration reform is a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if.’ We are a movement that is growing in size and sophistication and we aren’t going away or stopping until we achieve reform that creates a new roadmap to citizenship. The debate presents the Republican Party with a moment of truth: they have to decide if they want to be lifted up or left behind; whether they want to share credit for passing reform or watch as our movement channels its energy into holding Republicans accountable for their inaction. Either way, the march toward reform is relentless.