The immigrant rights movement is stronger than ever. The huge mass mobilizations to stop the harshly anti-immigrant HR 4437 won new allies for the immigrants and changed public perceptions in their favor. Though the Senate immigration bill, S 2611, cannot be regarded as satisfactory, the movement stopped the Senate from passing a bill as extreme as HR 4437, and got it to recognize that legalization has to be part of a comprehensive approach.

But there is still a strong chance that an anti-immigrant bill, perhaps the “compromise” touted by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), could be rammed through in September. This plan, which has received favorable attention from the White House, would delay dealing with the 12 million current undocumented and with future labor migration until the border is declared “secure.” Then all undocumented would have to “self-deport” and come back exclusively as guest workers via corporate-controlled “Ellis Island centers” in Mexico and other countries. To participate, countries would have to agree to NAFTA-like neoliberal trade pacts with the United States. Immigrants could only apply for citizenship after 17 years in this indentured servitude.

Immigrant-bashing is at the core of this year’s Republican electoral campaign. Repressive federal, state and local legislation and the scores of anti-immigrant “field hearings” being organized by the Republican House leadership are part of a massive strategy to distract voters’ attention from disastrous Republican policies. Although President Bush talks about legalization, he is sending the National Guard to the border, stepping up raids and deportations, and threatening much more to come.

The class agenda is the same as ever: to weaken the working class by using the divisive ideological poison of racism and xenophobia, while providing big business with greater profits from exploiting both immigrant and non-immigrant workers. The anti-labor guest worker program that is a major agenda item for Bush is part of that, while repressing undocumented immigrants makes them even more desperately willing to work for low wages. And this hurts all workers.

To fight this, we need unity, and a hard-headed, reality-based strategy.

This spring and summer, important differences of opinion came to a head within the immigrant rights movement, over the place of electoral and legislative activities, the May 1 “Day Without Immigrants,” whether to work with Democratic elected officials, and over various legislative proposals ranging from the McCain-Kennedy bill to S 2611. Though disagreements are inevitable in such a diverse movement, they represent a problem when they become acrimonious and personalized, and when opposing positions are taken based on inaccurate information or superficial analysis.

Anti-immigrant pushes in the legislative field can only be defeated by mobilizing members of the House and Senate. In practical terms, this means working with congresspersons and senators who can be pressured or persuaded to vote to stop the anti-immigrant juggernaut.

Though there are Democrats who have been bad on immigration, the Republicans are much worse. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee unanimously voted “no” on HR 4437, as did most Democrats in the final House vote. In the Senate, Democratic members tried to amend out the worst anti-immigrant language, but only partly succeeded because the Republican majority blocked them.

If the Republicans win on an immigrant-bashing platform in November, they will intensify anti-immigrant attacks in 2008. In this situation Democrats, on the other hand, will be more reluctant to stick their necks out for immigrants.

If the Republicans lose, the immigrants win. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, in which HR 4437 was crafted, will no longer be James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) but John Conyers (D-Mich.), a friend of immigrants’ rights and civil liberties. That will make it much more likely that pro-immigrant legislation can be achieved.

Let us put aside empty rhetoric about the Democrats being just as bad as the Republicans and understand that the immigrant rights movement needs broad unity between left and center, Democrats and independents, citizens and non-citizens, labor, churches and civic and community organizations to advance its slogans of legalization and full rights for all. Certainly, each tendency should defend what it considers points of principle, but let us do it in a way that maintains and strengthens unity.

This broad united front must stop any new push for anti-immigrant legislation, advance pro-immigrant legislation, and fight to block the Bush administration’s current enforcement crackdown. But it also needs to register voters and mobilize to erase the Republican congressional majority in November.

Emile Schepers is an immigrant rights activist.