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On Immigration Reform, the Tide Has Turned

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The Pro-Reform Movement Steps Up, Democrats Lean In and Republicans Change Stripes
Meanwhile, the Anti-Immigrant Side is Becoming Increasingly Marginalized

Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee immigration hearing proved once again that the ranks of the pro-immigration reform movement are on the rise, while the anti-immigrant movement is in full retreat.  Today brings more bad news for the increasingly marginalized anti-immigrant movement, as several media accounts highlight the growing recognition and distrust in conservative circles about the roots of the leading anti-immigrant organizations.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, “The immigration reform tide turned once and for all on November 6, 2012.  The elections produced a mandate for immigration reform.  Fast forward to last Tuesday’s State of the Union address, and the President’s call for comprehensive immigration reform led to one of the only bipartisan standing ovations.  Although the anti-immigrant movement has always been loud but not large, their influence today is much diminished.  Meanwhile, the power of the immigration reform movement is growing every day in depth and breadth.”

Below are just a few recent developments that suggest how dramatically the tide has turned.

The Pro-Reform Side is Strong, Growing, and Engaged

  • In fact, despite residual conventional wisdom to the contrary, the pro-reform forces are able to generate significantly greater calls and emails and contacts to Capitol Hill offices than the anti-immigrant movement.  For example, during the DREAM Act legislative debate in 2010, the pro-reform side generated 350,000 calls to Congress and recruited 150,000 subscribers through a text messaging campaign.  Wrote Fawn Johnson in the National Journal after the DREAM Act cleared the House in 2010 but fell five votes short of the sixty needed for Senate passage: “The various factions pushing for a path to citizenship—Hispanic groups, immigrant advocates, civil rights leaders, faith groups—are more unified and more sophisticated about communicating, in English and Spanish, to a vast group of people who care deeply about immigration reform. The advocates have a network now, and they won’t be hesitant to deploy it again.”

Democrats are United and Leaning into the Issue

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee, called and led by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), held its first immigration reform hearing of the year yesterday.  Senator Leahy led the charge to create a new roadmap to citizenship.  In his opening statement, he said “I am troubled by any proposal that contains false promises in which citizenship is always over the next mountain.  I want the pathway to be clear and the goal of citizenship attainable.”
  • Perhaps the most revealing portion of yesterday’s proceedings was the exchange between Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies’ Jessica Vaughan.  As we wrote yesterday, “one of the most striking themes is the contrast Blumenthal draws here: the antis are ‘very pessimistic’ about America and Americans, but supporters know ‘we are in a different time’ and ‘this moment is historic.’  To the antis, there will never be any workable solution to the broken immigration system; the American people aren’t ready for citizenship for the undocumented; and Americans-by-birth and Americans-in-waiting can’t be trusted to come together and integrate like previous generations.  Those of us who support a pathway to citizenship, by contrast, know that the hard work of building a cultural consensus has already been done – America is showing Congress how to lead on immigration, and the only question is whether Congress will return the favor.”

New Republican Voices Speaking Up in Favor of Reform

  • Republicans from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-SD) and Sen. Rand Paul have already made significant strides in distancing themselves from their formerly held anti-immigrant positions by endorsing a pathway to citizenship.
  • Immigration hardliners Reps. John Carter (R-TX) and Sam Johnson (R-TX) are signaling an openness to making real reform a reality as well.  According to a “Five Thirty Eight” blog post in theNew York Times, both are “already negotiating an immigration bill with Democrats,” and as noted by the title of a new Talking Points Memo piece today, both will be “Key Players Shaping An Immigration Deal in the House.”  While much is yet to be worked in the details of reform, this new openness to citizenship amongst one of the most recalcitrant groups in Congress is remarkable in and of itself.

The Anti-Immigrant Movement is Increasingly Under Pressure By Conservative Critics

  • Anti-immigrant organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies, Numbers USA, and FAIR been in spin mode since the 2012 elections.  They have been attempting – in vain – to claim that the 2012 elections have been misinterpreted.  They have been attempting – in vain – to dismiss the growing support from conservatives and Republicans.  But now they are coming under pressure from conservative ranks due to their shady origins and disturbing ties.  As the Washington Post’s Peter Wallsten explains in an article today, “Republicans pushing the party to rethink its approach to the issue are accusing those groups — Numbers USA, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) – of masquerading as conservative.  Critics say the groups and some of their supporters are pressing an unorthodox agenda of strict population control that also has included backing for abortion, sterilization, and other policies at odds with conservative ideology.”
  • In addition to the Post article, a new POLITICO op-ed from Frank Cannon and Jeffrey Bell of the conservative American Principles Project states, “Conservatives have been taking at face value this restrictionist crowd for too long. Beginning around 2006, in fact, many Republicans abandoned the fervently pro-immigration beliefs of Ronald Reagan and began articulating an ugly nativist narrative that has alienated millions of foreign-born and minority voters.  This was no accident.  It was part of a Machiavellian plan set up by Tanton and friends,” referring to the nativist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement, John Tanton.

Added Sharry, “It’s been a rough few months for hard line opponents of broad immigration reform, both in and out of Congress.  Just another reason why we’re optimistic reform will be enacted in 2013.”