Only Elections Will Fix Immigration
When pro-immigrant activists somehow learn to be as driven and aggressive as the anti-immigrant zealots, that's when comprehensive immigration reform will become a reality in this country — and when the broken immigration system will finally be fixed.
Unfortunately, from what we have seen in Washington in recent weeks, that reality is only a dream for now.
The hawks are just a loud minority — with the help of conservative talk radio and a few outspoken congressmen — but they are far more effective than the silent majority of compassionate Americans who see immigrant bashing as shameful and repulsive behavior. The pro-immigrant leadership has failed to mobilize its followers with the kind of success with which immigrant-bashers instigate theirs.
As a result, instead of gaining ground, immigrant rights are regressing.
The defeat of the comprehensive reform bill in the U.S. Senate last week is clear evidence that the anti-immigrant forces have grown much stronger. After all, the new bill was considerably more hawkish than the one the Senate approved last year, and still, a right-wing extremist movement defeated it.
Their scare tactics, sweeping generalizations and unfair characterizations of many hardworking people as criminals and even terrorists have made some Americans forget that we were once proud of being a compassionate nation of immigrants. They have turned the word "amnesty" into something evil.
The massive demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns and lobbying by immigrants and their supporters were no match for the onslaught of fear-mongering produced by conservative commentators and politicians. They have managed to mobilize American xenophobic haters like never before — and there is only one way to fight them, at the polls, on Election Day.
Some immigrant rights activists are still trying to revive the deceased bill by getting the House of Representatives to debate it. That would be a huge waste of time. It's just not going to happen this year. There are too many immigration restrictionists in Congress, too many politicians who feel threatened by the influx of Latinos.
Pro-immigrant leaders need to become as politically active as their opposition. They need to concentrate on changing the makeup of Congress, starting with those who defeated the reform bill because they can't tolerate any form of amnesty.
We know now that real immigration reform will not occur at least until a new president and Congress take office in 2009, which gives immigrant activists plenty of time to do as their opponents do: Target their enemies and go after a few of the most vulnerable in the next elections.
Right now, conservatives are celebrating the bill's defeat. But let them explain to the American people how they solved the immigration problem by maintaining the status quo and failing to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. By 2008, let them explain why their refusal to compromise (on a package that also included many security provisions) allowed entry to several million more illegal immigrants. And let them explain why, instead of concentrating on real criminals and terrorists, authorities will still hate to sift through more than 12 million innocent men, women and children.
Instead of allowing the zealots to set the tone of the debate by making it seem as if all illegal immigrants are criminals and terrorists, pro-immigrant activists need to explain how these people are helping to sustain our economy by doing some of the hardest and most humiliating jobs in America. They need to speak out about the honorable sacrifices many immigrants are making to feed their families and give their children a better life.
They need to remind Americans that these are the same humble people who often wash our cars and restaurant dishes, clean our homes, mow our lawns, make our hotel beds, pick our fruit and vegetables, care for our children, and even rebuild our disaster-torn cities.
The battle will get much tougher within the next couple of years. Immediately after the bill was defeated, immigrant-bashers called on the Bush administration to enforce existing laws and continue raiding homes and worksites and deporting people. Other extremists are already calling for an enforcement-only bill that would give the government even more tools to be mean-spirited.
It's unfortunate a lot of immigrants will suffer, but now we must let the xenophobes release their venom and expose their intolerance. Let them cheer when honest workers are raided and handcuffed, when deportations continue to separate children from their parents, when heart-wrenching human tragedies expose their un-American and inhumane behavior.
Let them show that they represent the ugly face of America, and then let the better-looking American people put a stop to them on Election Day.
To find out more about Miguel Perez, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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