By Javier Rodriguez   from La Plaza del Mariachi    15 March 2013

In the ongoing struggle for a Comprehensive Immigration Reform  Law, the last two weeks has seen developments which add character to the fight, the momentum advances as well as the political pressure on Congress and its  key players in the nation’s capital.


After weeks on the road passing through 90 targeted cities and 13 battleground states, a sector of the grass roots movement landed in Washington on March 13 with busloads of undocumented activists. They staged a symbolic hearing inside congress and like 90% of all other delegations that have visited the capital for months; they lobbied selected politicos demanding “immigration reform with a path to citizenship.”


In the same city and on the hills of the “fiasco” book presentation by leading Republican Jeb Bush, grossly denying citizenship to the 11 million immigrants, the policy makers drafting the Senate’s reform package responded to the wobbling member of the Bush clan on March 11 and announced there, “is an agreement on a path to citizenship and the amount of years to apply for permanent residence,” though aides said, “other hurdles remain.” On a roll the following day, Sen. Robert Menendez, one of the Gang, publicly announced that the language for DREAMers, TPS Central Americans and farm workers -approximately 5 to 6 million of all the undocumented- is also being designed to provide a special consideration for a fast track path to legalization and citizenship. Continuing, the next day the press reported the length of time that will take to reach the coveted “green card” for a future applicant, an estimated 8 years. That is if and when immigration reform gets approved.


This development, which was an open secret, dictates one of the pressure points that the lobbying must address in order to reduce the waiting time. Otherwise, what we will have is the same long line that was proposed in 2006 and 2007. In contrast, the 1986 IRCA Amnesty Reform Law stipulated the waiting for permanent residence was one year and then 5 more to obtain citizenship. That’s a significant difference. However, the residential time requirement to qualify then was 5 years living inside the US, in comparison to the more probable 1 year requirement from the approved date of the upcoming reform. Another generous provision under IRCA, farm workers only needed a total of 3 months work within the last two years prior to the signing of the law, and they qualified. Believe it or not, no residential requirement was needed and 1 million plus were approved. Again, to reiterate, the length of time is probably the most important part of the upcoming proposal that will need all cannons of lobbying pressure pointed in that direction.


Now, it is imperative to observe the pro reform forces at play nationally -by this I mean the main coalitions who represent hundreds of thousands and millions of people, that have been and continue moving delegations of activists, from all shades, to lobby Congress in Washington, as well as the caravans traveling throughout the country- and one can easily see that 95% of them are concentrating their demands on the political class primarily calling for a “Comprehensive Immigration Reform with a path to citizenship.”


What I have gotten from this since about the time of the Democratic National Convention,  is that, strategically the leadership of the diverse organizations, that is Labor, clergy, immigrant rights, DREAMers,   businesses, movements and key elected politicians, for this period, have selectively chosen to ensure that the upcoming bills get written and submitted, debated in the process of hearings and finally placed on the floor of both houses. It is then, in these three parts of the final process where the thick of the debate will ensue and where the liberal and progressive democratic movement will encounter the fiercest opposition from the historical and neo fascist anti immigrant right.


However, from all directions, the present political conditions and the correlation of forces do not favor the ultra conservatives and on top of it, the right is divided. At this time the momentum and the offensive is absolutely on the side of the pro immigrant forces and this means, from the grass roots troops on the streets to the highest level of political power, the White House. It’s a no brainer, the November election results were definitive in clearly setting the agenda and it placed immigration in the top tier of the nation’s problems to be resolved this year 2013. As it has been said, after 27 years of struggle, regardless of who you approach in the community, almost in chorus, the overwhelming majority states, “the time has come.”


How did the movement as a whole get there and what were the principal events that gave immigration reform the momentum that has maintained the issue in the all important level of “national conversation?”  I firmly believe that what began the climb to the highest peak so far, what launched the impetus, was initially the presidential decree of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals-DACA in  June 12, 2011.  It was a passionate and emotional victory for Latinos because it signaled the cry of freedom was a reality for the estimated 1.8 million DREAMers in America. Suddenly, for the almost 20% of the country’s undocumented, the college and university youth, our future thinkers, for them, the executioners of deportations, the “White ICE Elephant” was gone from their school corridors, their living rooms, their streets and psychologically off their backs. Like King, the father of the civil rights movement, they have been to the mountain top and they have seen the promised land of their freedom. I have said this before, it is similar to what the black slaves must have experienced after the Civil War in 1865, but not long after, Congress and the Jim Crow Laws denied them the right to vote and to equality. It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, exactly one hundred years later, that the millions of blacks obtained full citizenship.


Today, it’s also an incomplete freedom, but never the less freedom.


Since, thousands of these DACA approved DREAMers are speaking out in large national gatherings and through the mass media and they simply say, now we are going to fight for immigration reform and legalization for all the undocumented. I confess that I cherish those moments when I hear them say “I’m going to take my driver’s license test tomorrow.” Or when I see them empowered in action at the library, the DMV or waiting tables at restaurants in the East LA Latino enclaves of Boyle Heights or El Sereno, as they make their way through college in reach of their dream, now more secured. By far it’s not socialism but an empowering reform within the capitalist structure.


Many of the only English speaking Chicanos and indigenous activists who are outspoken opponents of the yet unwritten reform proposal and the ongoing rapid process in progress, do not seem to understand nor the human feeling behind this victory. However, the majority of the 50.5 million of our people do. A poll just published by the firm Latino Decisions out of D.C., astonishingly reveals the fact that by a resounding 60%, nationally Latinos have moved immigration as the number one national issue the country has to resolve.  


From there the next step was the “battle ground National Party Conventions” held late last summer. By then, it was obvious to the whole country that the Republicans were in the path of self destruction on most issues and especially immigration. Regardless of the Latino speakers paraded in their convention, the nation did not swallow the snake oil of self deportation. The rage against the Republican immigrant bashing quantified the momentum.


It was followed by the Democratic National Convention and here the Latino and pro immigrant tone was heavily in the air. The DNC was presided by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa with a long list of Latino speakers to name a few, it included Cong. Luis Gutierrez, the Castro twins of San Antonio, plus former President Bill Clinton, VP Joseph Biden and  President Obama and all had one thing in common, they all clamored for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and citizenship. But what crowned the moment for millions of immigrants and Latino democrats was the stage presentation of a DREAMer on national TV. It was obvious Villaraigosa and the producers of the convention concluded, America, the whole country, was ready to see and listen to an undocumented college graduate in their own living room. Unequivocally, it was a proud moment for all, but especially for immigrants, who for a whole year of campaigning, the Republicans had savagely vilified. The democratic response was like a down payment until November 6. At this juncture, the momentum on immigration began to intensify and we began to see the issue included in the “national conversation.”


In the next months Mitt Romney reduced the hate rhetoric but the die had been cast. During the second presidential debate on October 17, a prepared Barack Obama firmly articulated his vision for a comprehensive Immigration Reform and a path to citizenship to bring all the undocumented out of the shadows, especially the grown children. For the record breaking Latino electorate and immigrants, it was probably the most dramatic moment of the campaign. In some ways, under the barrage of constant right wing Republican attacks they had felt voiceless and here for all to see, was the largest megaphone in America on their side, the president taking Romney apart and all on the national networks, including the vast Spanish language TV. Symbolically he told the country “immigrants are somebody.” 


The stage was set for Election Day November 6.  As expected, the electoral coalition of women, gays, labor, African Americans, Asians and Latinos reelected Obama for a second term and the latter had once again come through for the democratic ticket and in high record numbers. The president’s victory speech was poignant and once again Latinos, immigrants and reform were highlighted. For Latinos this time, there was a major difference, they had finally broken through the political barrier and their power was felt at the polls. In the days that followed, the momentum crystallized and reached its highest point and they fully entered the national conversation. Of course, immigration resonated as a major cause the right in general was defeated by the Latino electorate vote in the strategic battle ground states.


It is agreed and been said many times by a huge number of opinion makers, the election spoke loud and clear. With Romney and Ryan down, the country’s anti immigrant right headed by John Tanton, Kris Kobach, Jan Brewer, Karl Rove, the billionaire Koch Brothers, their Talk Radio,  Fox News, the conservative Latino National Networks and more, were also defeated, as well as their Obama bashing and self deport state legislative strategy. 


If you recall, for four years of political presidential obstruction, the Republicans would not consider immigration reform. Ironically the chickens came home to roost, the following day, November 7, it was (R) Sen. Bill Graham who approached Sen. Schumer and said “let’s deal with that immigration reform,” LA Times. In the same front page feature article,  Illinois (D)Sen. Durbin, the first proponent of the DREAM Act, at 5:30 AM spotted and approached Marco Rubio in the Senate Gym and recruited him to join the work group now known as the Gang of 8.  


In this last presidential election the Latino electorate played a decisive role. Contrary to some proponents in the movement, the motions of the politicos described above, indicate clearly that it has been the struggle of the social movement, with its ups and downs, which since 2006, has set the agenda for immigration reform.


Lastly we come to the Presidential Inauguration of January 20, the National Forum on Immigration in Las Vegas the week after and the State of the Union Address. For three and half months the media interviews, commentaries and major newspaper editorials on immigration inundated the mainstream media. At the same time, the momentum was sustained at the same high pitch and in that process, immigration as a national topic intensified and consolidated as an part of the mainstream national conversation.


For activists in general and especially those in the perennial opposition, being there can be addictive and like all addictions the withdrawal symptoms can be painful. That is not to say that if we have found allies on this issue, we also agree with the Empire and its wars of annihilation, conspiracies and the overthrow of democracies, torture, assassinations, deportations of our people and definitely not the savage and super exploitation brought on humanity by capitalist globalization.  ZAZ, Javier


*Javier Rodriguez is a journalist and a media and political strategist. A long time social activist, he directed the mass street mobilizations in 1982-86 that led up to the Amnesty Law IRCA of 1986. He  was the initiator and directed the making of the 1.7 million historical immigration march in Los Angeles on March 25, 2006 as well as the May 1st 2006 Great American Boycott. He is presently involved in building La Universidad Obrera de Mexico-Los Angeles and  recently completed his third trip thru Mexico in a year, observing and writing about the country’s political process, the aftermath of a highly questioned presidential election, the drug war and migrants. Blog email