By Rinku Sen, ColorLines
September 17 2012
Like many others, I’ve worked for years to get Americans to think expansively and compassionately about immigration. In a decade dominated by the push for what’s been dubbed “comprehensive immigration reform,” I’ve argued that immigrants drive economic growth, pay taxes, add value to the culture, and don’t take jobs from native-born people. Although I wasn’t thrilled with the enforcement elements of the policy—that fence, beefing up the Border Patrol, growing detention and deportation—it seemed amazing that Congress was even considering changing the status of as many as 12 million undocumented people. Most of the immigrant rights movement focused on winning that policy, and for a time, it really seemed possible.
That was then. In the spring of 2007, the last decent bill authored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy died in Congress. There have been other bills since, each with more enforcement and less legalization. President Obama’s election seemed a hopeful sign, but he refused to move forward without Republicans and then deported record numbers. The moderate Republican on this issue has become scarce; by 2011, even McCain was claiming that border crossers had started wildfires in the Arizona desert. Democrats too have moved to the right, adopting harsher language and stressing enforcement. The immigrant rights movement, for all its vibrancy and depth, has been losing the policy fight.
That’s because the movement has also been losing the profoundly racialized cultural fight over the nation’s identity, limiting our ability to frame the debate. [...]
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