Friday, February 08, 2008

Talkin' immigration

-- by Dave

My weekly post at Firedoglake this week kicks off a short but (I hope) intense three-part series on immigration, focusing on how progressives can pick up this ball and run with it. It's titled "Immigration: Seizing the Day":
The main role of progressives so far in the immigration debate has largely been a defensive one -- trying to beat back the ugly tide of nativism that has driven most of the legislation and activism around the issue in recent years, especially within the Republican Party.

We saw this dynamic at work this week, when the focus fell on the wave of hatefulness that's been the regular drumbeat on immigration both within the media and within political circles in the recent past. A coalition of progressive reformists came out firing with a campaign aimed at stopping the drumbeat, fueled by the recognition that it has been fueled in large part by reckless rhetoric from mainstream Republicans and media figures -- most notably, CNN's Lou Dobbs, who when confronted with demands for accountability on this score has blustered and lied -- but the debate still took place largely on his terms.

However, even Republicans are starting to realize that not only is immigrant-bashing a non-starter for them -- for instance, the otherwise quite clueless David Brooks is aware enough to plead: "Can we please stop pretending that immigration is a good issue for Republicans?" -- it's a dead end for the party in the long term. Certainly, whatever advantage among Latinos the GOP might have gained under Bush's tenure has been demolished by the likes of Tom Tancredo and the rest of the GOP field.

Progressives need to recognize that immigration reform, conversely, can be a real winning issue for them -- especially for the long term. The electorate's rebuke of Republican nativists is a chance to completely and permanently alter the field of play, to get away from fighting defensive battles and to go on the offensive -- instituting a progressive approach to immigration that is both humane and effective for working-class Americans across the racial and economic spectrum.

The immigration debate, for those progressives who have already been deeply involved in it, has in fact felt rather like waiting for Godot -- we know our fellow progressives are going to be coming along any day now to join the journey toward effective reform. Still, we sit and sit, checking our watches as the clock ticks down, and we wonder.

So far, the debate has almost entirely revolved around the division between rival factions of the right: the corporate conservatives who have benefited from the status quo and would benefit even more from a "guest worker" program; and the nativist bloc that wants every one of the 12 million "illegal aliens" in America rounded up and "sent back where they came from."

If there is a progressive position, it has largely been involved in knocking down nonsense from both sides of the right, but particularly the race-baiting nativist factions. If there is a positive position, it hasn't been enunciated clearly at all -- which means that there has been precious little advocacy from the left. It's well past time for that to change.

This is a sort of participatory series -- I'm soliciting input from other progressives about how to piece together a positive approach to immigration that sweeps the issue away from the nativists. Feel free to chime in here, or to e-mail me at


No comments: