Massachusetts Election: Death Knell for Immigration Reform?
New America Media, News Report, Elena Shore Posted: Jan 21, 2010
Tuesday’s historic election in Massachusetts could spell trouble for Democrats, but advocates of immigration reform say it’s not over yet.
By capturing the seat held by former Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy who passed away last summer, Republican Scott Brown brings a different vision to the historically blue state. While Kennedy was known as a champion of health care reform and was co-author of the 2006 McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill, Brown has spoken out against both.
But advocates of immigration reform were quick to dispel fears that the election could be the death knell for immigration reform in 2010.
“This was a race that revolved around the issue of change, and Scott Brown – in spite of having a long history of being anti-immigrant, was able to tap into that wave,” Ali Noorani, executive director of National Immigration Forum and chair of Reform Immigration FOR America, said in a telephonic press conference Wednesday. “What didn’t happen is that we did not articulate that immigration reform is part of that change agenda.”
Janet Murguía, president and CEO of National Council of La Raza, added that the campaign by Democrat Martha Coakley made a fatal error in the election in Massachusetts – It “did not engage the Latino community,” she said.
There will be “consequences” for both parties if immigration reform does not pass, Murguía warned. “Promises have been made on this issue, and the Latino electorate is not going to look kindly on politicians who exuberantly seek our support in their campaigning but fail to follow through.”
But supporters of comprehensive immigration reform say that despite Coakley’s defeat, there is still a window of opportunity to pass the legislation in 2010. Unlike health care reform, they stress, immigration reform has historically been supported by both Democrats and Republicans.
“In this election we lost one vote, and that will make our job more difficult, but certainly not impossible, because we never thought of immigration reform as a partisan issue,” said Eliseo Medina, international executive vice president of the SEIU. “We always knew that we would need the support of members of Congress from both parties in order to pass comprehensive legislation.”
They cite recent studies that indicate that reforming immigration could be beneficial to the economy, leading to $1.5 trillion in economic growth over the next decade, while a deportation-only policy would drain $2.5 trillion over the same time period.
Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, noted that many in the business and agricultural sector – from the $2.2 billion sheep industry in the Western United States to the Wisconsin dairy industry’s 133,000 jobs -- view immigration reform as an economic issue.
“Most of the herders in the U.S. are foreign-born,” he said, yet from meat processing plants to wool production the sheep and lamb industry sustains thousands of jobs. Without immigration reform, he added, agricultural and other industries could be in serious jeopardy.
“We’re operating in fierce competition from other producers around the world like Australia and New Zealand. So if we lose to them because of Congress’s failure to deal with this issue, and the sheep industry leaves the United States,” he said, “you’re going to hear, in states like Montana, and Idaho, and Wyoming, and Utah, and Colorado and California, the sucking sound of the shrinking economy and the shrinking job base that will have resulted from Congress’s failure.”
Advocates of reform also note that, while some predict that the Massachusetts Senate race could spell the end of immigration reform, “conventional wisdom” isn’t always right.
“There’s a lot of conventional wisdom regarding immigration reform that has turned out to be wrong over the years,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. “We were told in 2006 that immigration was going to be the wedge issue that was going to save the Republican majority. That didn’t work out. We were told that immigration wouldn’t be a mobilizing issue for Latino voters in 2008, and that turned out to be wrong. And we’ve been told for the past year that immigration reform is essentially dead because of the down economy.”
Brown, who has denounced “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, said in September that the Democratic Party “wants a rubber stamp in Washington. There are some important votes coming up in the U.S. Senate on issues like healthcare reform, cap and trade and immigration reform … They want a ‘yes’ vote on immigration reform, even if it means amnesty for illegal aliens.”
But with polls showing support for comprehensive immigration reform by independent voters, studies finding that it could be a critical component of economic recovery, and independent voters rejecting partisanship, Sharry argues that immigration reform is not dead yet.
“Comprehensive immigration reform is a bipartisan issue,” added Noorani. “It has always been a bipartisan issue, and in fact it will always be a bipartisan issue.”
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