Time’s Up: Activists Step Up Pressure on Immigration Reform

By Michelle Chen Aug 13, 2009

President Obama’s announcement this week that immigration reform would be put on the back burner was met with disappointment tempered by cynicism. The hope that Obama’s election kindled has flickered over the past few months as the White House has generally adhered to the status quo set by the Bush administration. While Obama has made some overtures toward reforming detention policies, activists are fighting a war of attrition against stagnation and distraction in Congress. But faced with the news that immigration reform may have to wait until 2010, some organizations say their patience has run out. The Mexican American Political Association has called for direct action to fight crackdowns on undocumented workers, and pushed for a moratorium on hardline enforcement measures until real reform is enacted:

Immigrant advocates and proponents in favor of fair immigration reform and legalization should now have no illusions about the timetable for the change that we hoped for and the change that our people want and need. However, the demand for an immediate moratorium of the Obama enforcement policy becomes more apparent and pressing. There is no other alternative. If we can’t have reform this year, we absolutely require relief in the form of a moratorium of the enforcement of employer sanctions, raids, deportations, e-Verify, and prolonged detention for immigration related offenses, which are civil in nature. All non-violent tactics need to be put on the table. … We are taking the brunt of the attacks and suffering the immediate consequences of this misguided policy, therefore, our call is urgent to take to the streets on September 5th, the Labor Day weekend, and October 12th, not to ask but demand that President Obama stop the attacks on immigrants and that he fulfill his promise of immigration reform, that which we heard during the presidential campaign, but has recently been forgotten. We are convening all organizations, unions, churches, and all those who support fair and humane immigration reform to march in the streets and let our voices be heard as one – all at the same level and force – that WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH MR. PRESIDENT. We declare that just as you politicians we also are human beings and we also need to eat and live with dignity. We are honorable workers and we deserve respect. The same as is demanded of us to pay taxes, we demand to be blanketed by the very programs that exist thanks to our contributions, especially during these distressful times.

In Baltimore, where local communities have been rocked by rising anti-immigrant hostility and rampant labor exploitation, the City Council just passed a resolution demanding that that Washington act immediately on comprehensive immigration reform. But Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, took a more optimistic reading of Obama’s announcement:

while some are interpreting the President’s comments as a step back on immigration reform, we view them as a confirmation of his commitment to get comprehensive immigration reform legislation enacted in the coming months. In fact, this is the most specific he has been with regard to when the bill will be ready and when the floor debates will take place.

Specific, perhaps, but not inspirational. Whether activists are banking on 2010 or demanding that Obama start making good on his campaign promises now, all would agree that real reform was due yesterday. Maybe Washington’s latest tepid response to the crisis will spur grassroots groups to stop simply reacting to the official agenda and start setting it. Image: Immigration rally in downtown Los Angeles (Damian Dovarganes / AP)