Immigration Reform: Where's the Center?

Immigration is that can that's always being kicked down the road--displaced by the global financial meltdown, passing the Affordable Care Act (ACA or "Obamacare"), Syria's gassing of civilians, heck, even this season's premier of Scandal on ABC.

But now that the government shutdown is finito, having narrowly averted a debt default, immigration is back...for now. While we are in the so-called calm before our next manufactured political storm, this issue's current movement, while not unexpected, is significant. This is especially the case for Republicans who desperately need to swap their "Party of No" image for one of good ideas and better policy. To be clear, conservatives have good ideas, for example on immigration making permanent the E-Verify system that would penalize employers who do not perform due diligence when hiring an employee.

Unscrupulous companies that exploit those without their work visas, you're on notice.


This week the Immigration Unusual Suspects coalition of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, faith-based leaders, and some Silicon Valley types who after organizing at the beginning of the year to pressure the Senate, are turning up the heat on the House hold outs. The who? Yes, the same characters who brought you The Government Shutdown. Others showing leadership include Congressman Jeff Denham who signed onto a Democratic immigration reform bill and was joined by his Republican colleague Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

Even with a growing conservative coalition from all over the country, a crucial element is missing. The so-called Center as defined by a recent NBC/Esquire poll which refutes the conventional wisdom that people in America are as divided as the elected leaders we send to Washington. Instead, an expanding common ground and shared ideas among mainly whites make up the Center and are being joined by a growing diverse set--women, ethnic and racial minorities, as well as young people. Although progressive, this political "Middle" also displays a more conservative streak in its support of ending:

"affirmative action in hiring and education (57 percent). Most people in the center believe respect for minority rights has gone overboard, in general, harming the majority in the process (63 percent). And just one in four support immigration reforms that would provide a path to citizenship for those who came here illegally." [emphasis added]

Unlike the government shutdown or nearing our debt default which strengthened President Obama's hand, overall, immigration reform does not enjoy a plurality of support. I thought this at my DC power lunch spot this week while chatting with a journo friend. Does immigration reform legislation have the support of the white-gloved waiters who don't mind "im'grints" because they work with them everyday? Does it have the support of soccer moms? Will futból mamis who are one generation removed from complicated status and are luxuriating in middle class suburban problems of balancing work, marriage, and kids--are they staying informed, motivating their comadres, and doing their part to keep up the steady pressure with daily acts of civic participation?

Rhetorical questions with answers that reveal a failure on behalf of those who support immigration reform to convince the average people whose political pressure garners attention and action, especially votes. House Holdouts will listen to a critical mass of constituents who believe immigration reform will improve their local economies. The so-called Deportation President will realize that public safety is compromised by programs such as Secure Communities and will pressure ICE to make sure that each of the 1100 people deported each day are hardened criminals.

Until this plurality of regular Americans is convinced that immigration reform is best for them, their families, and neighborhoods, that those who directly benefit from comprehensive legislation are as American as they are, then Speaker Boehner has little incentive to stick out his neck on immigration reform as two members of his conference recently have done. President Obama has little incentive to exert more of his executive authority to grant reprieve to those at risk of or ensnared in today's still wide net of removals.

Click below to watch this "Immigration Mash Up" courtesy of NBC Latino which aired on October 18, 2013.

This clip forms part of a larger post government shutdown agenda panel discussion on MSNBC's Thomas Roberts show which you can view in its entirety and read in The Post Shutdown Agenda or How I Almost Hugged Thomas Roberts on MSNBC.

Click to read more of my posts on politics and immigration.

Why has the so-called Center not "bought in" to comprehensive immigration reform?