Saturday, September 09, 2006

Rallies inside/outside the Capitol

Immigrant rights advocates rallied around the country this week but their marches didn't draw the same crowds as this past spring. In Washington, DC, the rally drew a much smaller crowd than was hoped for.

Commentators, like the Washington Post and the New York Times, were quick to say that the turnout "provide[ed] a barometer of the vitality of the immigrant rights movement" and the "political potency of such marches, which drew hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the spring, seemed to be waning." The Center for [Anti-]Immigration Studies was quick to declare that "The attempt to recreate the atmosphere in the spring has completely failed because the illegal aliens and their supporters have gotten the message that the American people aren't going to roll over for this amnesty bill."

Those in the know, however, said the lower turnout could have been a combination of lots of reasons: fear over the recent rash of immigration raids around the country, the perception among immigrants that there was little payoff from earlier marches and lost hope because Congress has squandered the opportunity to do something. Many immigrant rights advocates noted that marches are just one part of a larger strategy that encompasses community organizing, citizenship drives and voter registration; activities that groups have been engaged in way before the spring marches. Journalists may be either too busy or lazy to truly cover a story that is not as blatantly visible and more incremental and grassroots.

Meanwhile inside the Capitol building, Congresswomen/men are rallying for the November elections and using immigration reform in their larger electoral strategies. President Bush and his party has dubbed this month "Security September" and, in keeping with that theme, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert told the press "We're at war, and we need to act like it. We need to close the borders." (Question: Does he mean close the holes in the border or close the border completely?)

The bottom line is that no one can quite predict how the immigration card will influence the elections. Will voters reward Congressional representatives for being tough on undocumented immigrants? Or will the hard-nosed "enforcement-first" approach appear too callous and mean-spirited that it will alienate voters, particularly Latino Americans? Since its' such an unknown, Congress seems to prefer posturing rather than doing anything definitive. Yet, their inaction could cost them too.

Instead of working on a compromise bill between the House and Senate bills, Congress wants to have it both ways: look tough without doing anything on larger immigration reform. As evidence of this, on the same day as the immigrant rights rallies, the Senate added $1.8 billion in new spending for border security on top of additional billions already contained in House and Senate fiscal 2007 Homeland Security appropriations bills. CongressDaily reported that "the extra funding, along with some scaled-back policy initiatives aimed at stanching illegal immigration, is designed to placate voters in the absence of a comprehensive immigration overhaul package, which GOP leaders concede will not happen before the elections." The extra funding is contained in the fiscal 2007 Defense bill but some House members think it should be in the Homeland Security appropriations bill so it doesn't divert money from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the Congressional Daily: "The conversations about the overall bill, the larger bill, are going to continue, but in absence of that there's a lot of things we can do to strengthen our borders and we're going to."...just in case anyone thought they were stalling.

ACTION STEP: Call your Congressional representatives (202.224.3121) and tell them that there are many more people than those who marched last week who care about the rights of immigrants. Tell them that you are a voter and you want leadership in Washington that doesn't scapegoat people and seeks to protect the human rights of ALL people who live in our country.