Immigration Momentum Can’t Be Stopped

Ordinarily, I would be more discouraged about Thursday’s passage of a bill to deport DREAMers. But, just five days ago, I was in Phoenix, at The New American Leaders Project’s training for community leaders, in a room full of first- and second-generation immigrants. Several were DREAMers, active in the movement to bring attention to the unjust exclusion of young Americans from tuition equity, gainful employment and democratic participation. These young people are American in every way, and as Rep. Luis Gutierrez said, “should not be responsible for the actions of adults and their parents.”

In our training, DREAMers and others shared their stories of community activism and learned the skills they needed to transfer those experiences to civic leadership. In Arizona, the birthplace of S.B. 1070, one would not be wrong to expect disillusion and disappointment with our democracy. But this week, and last year when we first trained there, the enthusiasm and optimism that drives DREAMers and undocumented immigrants is palpable. Their positive energy is fueled by the success they have had in recalling Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) in 2011, work in which our partner Promise Arizona played a key role.  The 2012 election results in Arizona in reflected mobilization by Promise and other immigrant groups. And now, two of Arizona’s senators, both Republicans, are supporting immigration reform.

The winds of change are clear, even if Rep. Steve King and his co-conspirators would like to continue living in a bubble of delusion. There has never been a question that immigration reform will have a tougher battle in the House than in the Senate. But, electoral realities, high profile voices in law enforcement, business and the arts, and the kind of community activism that DREAMers employed in 2012 and earlier, are coalescing.  If they aren’t influenced by momentum, then there’s public opinion. A poll released on June 6 by America’s Voice and Latino Decisions shows that 87% of Latino voters say they would blame the Republican party in whole or in part. So, while House members in districts with few Latino voters may be able to hold on to their seats, their counterparts in other districts would stand to lose from Congress’ failure to pass immigration reform.  And if Rep. King and his colleagues who use fear mongering tactics, get their act together? In this same poll, 45% of Latino voters said they would be “more likely” to vote Republican, if the party passes sensible immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.  Let’s face it. DREAMers, Latinos, Asian Americans, are here to stay, and the most anti-immigrant and xenophobic Congress members have to contend with that reality, whether or not we live in their districts.