Immigration: How not to make legislative concessions

What a nightmare! You are running through a dark forest, pursued by a huge, hungry wolf. For some reason or other, you have a sack on your back which contains a lot of fresh T-bone steaks (I like T-bone steaks, though I can only afford them in dreams). Every time the wolf gets a little closer, you reach into the sack and throw it a steak. The wolf gulps down the steak in one bite, bone and all, and keeps running after you. Finally you reach into the sack and find there are no steaks left. The wolf pounces! Aaaargh!

Then you wake up.

Dreams are not logical and we do things in them that we would not normally do in waking, real life. But certain politicians act as if they were sleepwalking when they deal with complicated legislative issues.

A case in point is the vote in the Senate yesterday to throw $600 more into the useless and hopeless project of “sealing” the U.S.-Mexican border. The House had already passed the bill and President Obama has indicated that he will sign it immediately.

Although $600 million might buy a lot of duct tape, it is not going to resolve the “problem” of “sealing” the border which is 1,900 miles long and runs through some extremely rugged landscape. And if they somehow did “seal” the border, a way would be found to come in through the Canadian side, or through the thousands of miles of coastline.

Senator Schumer (D-NY), one of only two people in the Senate when the vote was taken, and the Obama administration told immigrants rights advocates that this $600 million is to sweeten the mood of the Republican Party politicians so that they will come out in favor of a generous legalization program for the undocumented at some future time.

To me it looks more like yet another T-bone steak thrown to a hungry wolf. The wolf will still be hungry no matter how many steaks you toss him, and he will end up by eating you. Besides, one is teaching the wolf how to get T-bone steaks.

No matter how many concessions the government and the Democrats toss to the Republicans, if they are concessions that are not part of a single legislative instrument that gives us a humane, just, comprehensive and practical method of legalizing the undocumented and other necessary things, the G.O.P. will just keep upping the ante until the Democrats have no concessions left to make. But the G.O.P. wolves will still be hungry. Why? Because for them this is not about providing realistic, let alone fair, solutions to real problems. It is about election year demagogy. And since there is an election somewhere every year, this never stops.

Look at how the Republicans are upping the ante every day. First there came the Arizona law SB 1070 with imitators in the pipeline. Now, leading Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and former friend of immigrants Lindsey Graham (R-SC), as well House Minority Leader Boehner, have begun to agitate for a change in the 14th Amendment, to take away citizenship from U.S. born children of undocumented immigrants.

Coming from another angle, some in the GOP say they won’t support immigration reform unless they can get big new guest worker programs. And all these things are floated without any commitment whatsoever that the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in the country will eventually get legal status as a result.

The White House and the Democratic leadership should stop making concessions which affect other people’s lives, concessions which are given in exchange for absolutely nothing. Conceding such things is only designed to make it seem as if Democrats can be just as tough on immigration as Republicans, a competition which the Republicans will win every time. Such a strategy loses the Democrats votes among Latinos and other important sectors. And it does not gain them votes from the anti-immigrant sectors, because the Republicans can always put forward yet more extreme rhetoric and demands.

Depending on the balance of power in the Congress and in the country, concessions may be necessary on this and other issues. We can’t take a position of “all or nothing”: Either perfect legislation or leave the 11 million to their fate. But making concessions without getting anything whatsoever in return is simply surrender.

Better to turn and face the wolf. If the government and the majority party would do this, they would find that in the Latino community and others, extra millions would turn out to support them on election day.



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.