“Barack Obama’s White House Spoke of Immigration Reform,” headlined Univision.com. A story by Jorge Cancino on the Spanish-language network’s website underlined the fact that the “Agenda” section of the new White House site “included the commitment to promote a change to immigration laws that allows for legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants.”
Tag: immigration reform activists
*Note: This post includes an update after the march, at the end.
Today is a day for celebration across the land. Tomorrow the real task of governing begins for some, and for others the work of lobbying and pushing for reform starts. Before the dust of the inauguration has time to settle a group of pro-immigrant organizations will hold a march in Washington D.C. for “just and humane” immigration reform. (See more below.)
Latino civil leaders and lobbying organizations intend to keep the issue in the front burner despite a new nationwide poll showing the economy, not immigration, is Latinos’ top concern.
Latino leaders reminded the incoming administration just that Monday during the Latino State of the Union gathering, organized by the National Council of La Raza, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
It’s fitting that Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar grew up in Calexico, the California town whose name is a combination of California and Mexico. As a leader of President-elect Barack Obama’s task force on immigration, Cuéllar can certainly use some transcultural sensitivity.
Cuéllar, a law professor at Stanford University, has been named one of the co-heads of the Obama transition’s Immigration Policy Working Group. The transition’s web site says he is in charge of “working on a plan to implement the President-elect’s commitments to fix the immigration system through legislative and executive actions that promote prosperity, enhance our security, strengthen families, and advance the rule of law.”
Cuéllar has called the current immigration situation in the U.S. “a humanitarian crisis that we’ve ignored” and one that deserves an appropriate response, Spanish wire Agencia EFE reported.
EFE interviewed pro-immigration reform activists, who said they were satisfied with the appointment. Cuéllar, reporter María Peña wrote, “is known for his pragmatism and sensitivity toward the subject and his appointment this week confirms … that the incoming administration is committed to comprehensive immigration reform.”
Clarissa Martinez de Castro of the National Council of La Raza, told Peña:
Cuéllar is a good choice and we think that this time reason will win out over the toxic rhetoric of groups that have tried to inject fear into the electorate about immigrants. He’s very pragmatic and, although the economy is the United States’ top priority at this time, we think that in the end people will recognize that sensible immigration policy also will be good for our economy.
Despite appearances and poll numbers, neither presidential candidate has a lock on the Latino vote. The National Council of La Raza convention in San Diego, which just ended yesterday (7/15/08), showed that both candidates have to overcome a strong measure of doubt among Latinos – Obama because of his race and the bitter primary battle, and McCain because of his backtracking on immigration reform.
By the time McCain came around on Monday, the press corps was diminished greatly, many activists didn’t show up for lunch –the overflow room that was full on Sunday was virtually empty on Monday- and the excitement level had noticeably dropped.
It’s completely anecdotal evidence, of course, but it shows that the Latino groups and activist crowd that usually attend the NCLR conferences support what the polls are saying. The latest Gallup Poll of Latinos shows a 30 point difference in support between Obama and McCain. Obama is getting close to 60 percent and McCain has about 29 percent. (more…)
Sen. Barack Obama’s speech at today’s National Council of La Raza (NCLR) conference introduced little new in terms of policy or rhetoric, but it served as a reminder that immigration reform could still be used as a wedge issue in the presidential election.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7dE1L8QAxY]
As he did in his speeches to the National Associate of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Obama made a speech that emphasized the importance of the Latino vote, promised to get an immigration reform bill passed within his first 100 days in office and attacked Sen. John McCain for ultimately withdrawing support for the 2006 immigration reform proposal he had originally sponsored.
La Opinion reported that for the nearly 20,000 people in attendance the reaction to the speech was emotional and overwhelmingly positive; Obama also got a standing ovation from the mainly Latino crowd of activists and advocates at last week’s LULAC conference, where the candidate emphasized his own immigrant background.
But outside the convention hall, Obama’s speech and promises on immigration reform were greeted with jeers. About sixty members of the Minute Men, the self-proclaimed anti-immigration militia that patrols the US – Mexico border to stop illegal immigration, lined up with placards in opposition to NCLR, the nation’s oldest Latino civil rights group – and one of the most powerful.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported that one man carried a sign that showed a cartoon boy urinating on a sign that read “NCLR.” The man carrying the sign claimed that it was not against Latinos but the organization that represented them.
Chuck Malon, another member of the Minute Men, told a La Opinion reporter, “NCLR helps the illegal invasion. Helps get drivers licenses. They’re destroying everything we’ve built in this country.”
The presence of the protesters, though small in number, is a reminder that despite the embrace of the Latino vote and the calls for immigration reform by both candidates, there is a segment of the American public that is as turned off by those campaign promises as those attending the conference were turned on.
It’s often the issues within the issue that can become lightning rods for controversy. Take the issue of drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants that Malon raised.
Last November, a highly publicized moment in a Democratic debate in Philadelphia showed Sen. Hillary Clinton unwilling to take a strong stand for or against drivers licenses. Clinton was criticized for not being a straight talker; after expressing initial support for New York’s then-Governor Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to extend driver’s licenses to some undocumented residents. Clinton’s popularity, especially in Iowa where illegal immigration was a concern, took a dive. Obama, who had also quietly approved Spitzer’s proposal, hedged his answer a bit as well (notably at another Democratic Presidential debate in Las Vegas) but ultimately has maintained support for the measure.
A few other states, including New Mexico and Utah, have extended driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who can prove their identity and state residency without using immigration documents.
In the long run, in a Democratic primary, the issue never took precedence. But it’s often the nuances of highly publicized and polarizing issues that can turn even a bipartisan election year goal into the thorniest of political footballs. If anti-immigration sentiment grows over the course of the election cycle, look for Obama’s statements on supporting that measure to come up again.
Senator John McCain speaks at the NCLR conference later on today.