A Series of Articles on Immigration Reform Movement from Border Lines Blog
Monday, January 19, 2009
(Border Lines CIR Series #16)
President Barack Obama could quickly go a long way toward resolving the immigration policy crisis.
But it’s not the path that the leading liberal immigration reformers are demanding. At this time the introduction of new comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill would, even if supported by the president, would be disastrous.
Many of the forces that supported CIR last time around are calling for the Obama administration to support liberal immigration reform within its first year. They say it’s what the voters want and what’s needed to solve the immigration crisis.
But another divisive debate over the details of a new immigration policy is not what the U.S. public needs, and it’s not what immigrants need. Even with an increased Democratic majority, there isn’t the political will or political capital to pass a liberal immigration reform.
What’s needed is not another unwieldy CIR bill. What’s desperately, urgently needed is simply the power of words – and this is a power that the president has in abundance. Before dealing with the controversial specifics of a new immigration policy, Obama needs to weave a new narrative about immigration in 21st America.
A central reason why the immigration debate is so contentious, so deeply bitter is the absence of common terms of discourse. Each side in this debate has set out to frame the issue in terms that reflect its own distorted worldview. The result is a nation that is variously divided and confused.
Some say that the immigration crisis is at its heart a national security crisis in which the homeland is threatened by porous borders and millions of illegal immigrants in the heartland.
Others say that it a crisis of supply and demand in the laws of the market clash with unrealistic immigration laws that turn workers into illegals.
Some say it is a social and cultural crisis in which stability and identity in America are undermined by a pervasive presence of illegal immigrants, while others say that it is a crisis in which there is a massive violation of immigrant rights – the right to work without exploitation and the right to be treated fairly.
Adding to the confusion about the immigration issue is that opposing sides employ some of the same conceptual frameworks to mean different things. Both pro-immigration and anti-immigration institutes in Washington, DC now sprinkle their messaging with appeals to the “rule of law” and “worker rights.”
For the pro-immigration forces, the only way to restore the rule of law is to bring illegal immigrants “out of the shadows” of the law through a legalization process and to provide more legal paths of entry. In contrast, the anti-immigration groups say that only by enforcing immigration law consistently – both at the border and in the country’s interior – will the rule of law be restored.
Worker rights for the immigrant advocates means enforcement of labor laws to protect immigrants (and by extension all workers), while anti-immigration organizations say that the large presence of illegal workers undermine the rights of legal workers who are forced into a competition that drives wages and working conditions downward.
Each side claims the virtue of common sense.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the nation’s oldest restrictionist institute, boasts in its slogan that is "Restoring Common Sense to America's Immigration System." Meanwhile, the competing slogan of America’s Voice, an immigrant-rights organization created in the wake of CIR’s defeat in 2007, is “The Power to Win Common Sense Immigration Reform.”
Each side tells America that its vision of immigration reform is the fair one.
It’s the acronym of the leading restrictionist organization, and it kicks off the name of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, the networking branch of the immigrant-rights institutes in Washington.
As it became evident in the CIR congressional battles in 2006 and 2007, comprehensive immigration reform, even if passed, would fall far short of establishing a new immigration policy that was both sensible and fair. While attempting to be comprehensive – border security, temporary workers, family visas, employment verification, immigration law enforcement, citizenship conditions, etc. – the last CIR bill of the Bush administration came to the Senate floor as patchwork of compromises and contradictions.
No doubt there is an immigration crisis in America. No doubt that the system is broken, as contending sides both assert.
It’s out of control.
The budget being thrown by both Democrats and Republicans at border control and immigration law enforcement increases every year by more than a billion dollars. Thousands of newly hired and inadequately trained border patrol officers in an armada of new vehicles roam the borderland, which is booming with construction of border walls, fortified ports of entry, and imposing new headquarters for an occupying arm of Homeland Security agents.
Private prison firms and local governments rush to build dozens of new prisons for immigrants stopped at the border or rounded up in the interior. Most major and medium-size cities now host Homeland Security “fugitive operations teams” that in their hunt for criminal and fugitive (who have not responded to immigration court orders) immigrants are banging down doors in dawn raids and collecting as collateral nontargeted immigrants, legal residents and immigrant-looking citizens.
In the name of restoring the rule of law, immigrants are being pulled from their families, communities, and employment and the outsourced to private prison companies that own and operate the country’s new array of immigrant prisons. Immigrant settlements that have revitalized urban centers and dying rural towns are being shorn apart
But in the absence of a national consensus about immigration, the government says it has no recourse but to enforce the law.
It’s up to President Obama to forge that consensus with new words about immigration. Just as he is bringing rivals and parties together and just as bridging other ideological divides with a vision of common hope for a renewed America, he needs to create a new common language about immigration.
The immigration debate that is raging in America is suffused with many valid terms: immigrant-rights, nation of immigrants, justice for all, nation’s right to control its border, identity theft, overburdened social services, etc.
Cobbling all these terms and associated policies together into a comprehensive immigration bill is one approach to solving the immigration crisis. But in a post-Bush America it’s old approach that doesn’t rise to this new hopeful political time.
No one else has risen to the challenge, but Obama is a natural for the task of creating a new framework for understanding immigration and managing it in the national interest. What he needs to explain, as perhaps only he can, is that the nation needs a healthy debate over immigration.
But not a debate shaped and driven by pro- and anti-immigration groups that are irretrievably entrenched in their own narrow rhetoric and convictions. Rather a debate and a discourse that is positive, inclusive, and pragmatic.
The terms used to frame the new national discussion about immigration can be common ones – like justice, community, sustainability, rights, national interest, and yes common sense and fairness – but Obama can infuse them with a new vitality, a new urgency, and an invigorating personal relevancy.
It’s his challenge now to create a new narrative to immigration that brings Americans together. With his power of words and ability to evoke hope, he needs to help us determine together how and how many immigrants contribute to our national interest and our nation’s future.
Next in Border Lines CIR Series: Latino Path to Immigration Reform
(Fifthteenth in Border Lines series on Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
How is the immigration reform movement working to ensure that comprehensive immgration reform (CIR) succeeds this time around?
They have a “four-pillar” structure that the Carnegie Reporter describes in a recent feature article: “Immigration: Reform Movement Rebuilds.” According to the Carnegie Corporation report:
“Now these advocates are using the sometimes painful lessons learned from their
Central to the policy approach are a priori demands for immigration reform. That the United States should have a liberal immigration policy that legalizes illegal immigrants and has an open door for new immigrants is the common assumption on which their policy advocacy is based.
This a priori case for liberal immigration reform perhaps best illustrated by the policy approach of the National Immigration Forum, which describes itself as “the nation’s premier immigrant rights organization.”
Its case for a pro-immigration policy and comprehensive immigration reform is crystallized in its mission statement: “The Forum is dedicated to embracing and upholding America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants.” Its slogan, “Immigrants Are America,” echoes the organization’s core belief: namely, that America was, is, and should always be a “nation of immigrants.”
In other words, if we believe it is so and others believe it is so, then it must be so and should always be so.
They may be right, but they will certainly need a more effective policy approach if they are to convince the American people and Congress. But there is little sign that these immigrant-rights advocates are prepared to go beyond their beliefs and convictions to make a comprehensive case for comprehensive immigration reform.
One might think that after more than a quarter-century enmeshed in immigration policy debates in Washington that groups like the National Immigration Forum, America’s Voice (an offshoot of the forum), and National Council of La Raza would have a policy agenda that not only made the case for liberal immigration reform but also set forth specific policy proposals.
But that’s not the case. Instead, what they offer are a set of principles that double as agenda items, including Reunite Families, Protect Workers, Give Undocumented Workers a Chance to Get Right by the Law, Restore the Rule of Law, and Promote Citizenship and Civic Participation.
But the more effective policy approach of these immigration reform advocates does include at least one new thrust – the campaign to discredit the restrictionist institutes as “hate groups” and an increased emphasis on instrumentalist argument that the expanding Latino electorate makes voting for liberal immigration reform politically imperative.
Meanwhile, as the immigrant crackdown continues, there are increasing signs that immigration reform is a fading priority not only for the citizenry as a whole but also for Latinos.
One can only hope that the more effective policy approach of this immigration reform movement is still being fine-tuned and that it includes convincing argumentation why liberal immigration reform is in the national interest – not just immigrants, not just Latinos, but all Americans.
Otherwise, this movement will likely be as marginal to the national policy debate over CIR as it was last time around.
Read Entire Border Lines' CIR article.
Next in Border Lines’ CIR Series: The Latino Path to Immigration Reform
(Fourteenth in a Border Lines series on Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
Isn’t it past time for a pause?
We certainly need a campaign for liberal immigration reform. But shouldn’t there have been one of those strategic planning sessions that NGO consultants and meddling board members are continually advocating? Isn’t it time to look back before marching forward?
We are told by the Carnegie Corporation – one of the major funders of the liberal immigration reform movement – that the movement is rebuilding. The leaders of this movement are telling each other and the media that their time has come.
It all adds up, they are saying. The record Latino vote (but doesn’t the Latino vote routinely exceed its past record?), friends in the new administration, results from polls they themselves commission, their interpretation of the election results, even what the departing and badly discredited president says about immigration reform. It all signals, for them, that this is the time for CIR.
Certainly there were a series of meetings among themselves and with their funders to chart new directions in the aftermath of the collapse of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) in June 2007.
But rather than pausing for a hard look at the new political realities in America and to reflect on why their immigrant-rights message was failing so miserably as a policy framework for immigration reform, they patted themselves on the back and pushed on with a new infusion of foundation funding.
Rather than to consider the wisdom or validity of their own messaging – immigrants, legal or illegal, have an intrinsic right to be granted U.S. citizenship since America has been and will always be a nation of immigrants – these immigrant-rights leaders (centered around National Immigration Forum, National Council of La Raza, Center for Community Change, and the newly formed America’s Voice) blamed the opposition for their own failures.
Now, with a new grassroots and lobbying campaign underway to reintroduce CIR, there seems to be little time to consider some basic questions about message and strategy. If there were wide-open strategic planning session of the kind that seems so badly needed, some of the questions and issues that deserve consideration might include the following:
Does it make good sense to fashion the immigrant-rights movement as a policy reform movement?
There is an immigrant-rights movement because the rights of immigrants to due process and equal protection are routinely (and increasingly) violated. But should this movement, which rightly represents the rights and interests of noncitizens, be tasked to make the case that liberal immigration reform is in the best interests of citizens?
No doubt the immigrant-rights message should be part of the campaign for liberal immigration reform, but should it be central?
If liberal immigration reform – as opposed to a restrictionist immigration reform – is in the common interest of the U.S. public, then why is the networking of this reform movement focused almost entirely on immigrant constituencies and special interest groups (business, labor, immigration lawyers, among others)?
Wouldn’t an immigration reform movement have greater credibility and impact if its voices were those of teachers, police chiefs, mayors, state legislators, social service providers, and other civic leaders rather than almost exclusively of those whose organizations have a special rather than common interest in such issues as legalization, family reunification, and increased visas? Shouldn’t the liberal foundations, in addition to their essential commitment to immigrant rights, be more focused on helping give voice to these constituencies for liberal immigration reform?
Why is it that the anti-immigration forces were able to mobilize their members with such great success to oppose CIR in 2007, when the so-called immigration reform movement was barely heard?
Immigrant-rights organizations operating largely autonomously brought millions of immigrants and their supporters out into the streets of America to demonstrate their outrage at the intensifying immigrant crackdown in 2006 and as a call-out for sympathy and solidarity. Why didn’t the leaders of the immigration reform movement recognize then that the greatest need was to reach out to citizens with a pro-immigration message rather than focus on the networking of already deeply concerned, mobilized groups and communities?
Is a movement really a movement when it depends so heavily on foundation funding, and may not exist without that funding?
All too clearly there is an immigration backlash movement in the United States. There is also an inspiring immigrant-rights movement that both supports the integration of immigrants in U.S. society and increasingly defends the rights of immigrants. Does it make good tactical sense to pit the latter movement that is concerned with the plight of noncitizens against the former which is a movement of citizens?
The immigrant-rights groups – National Immigration Forum, America’s Voice, and National Council of La Raza – are the dominant voices of the NGO movement for immigration reform and are important, highly valued voices on behalf of immigrants. But how does the U.S. public react when these self-described immigrant-rights groups position also presume to be the voices of all Americans when speaking to Congress and the media about immigration?
When does the message about the rights, plight, and history of immigrants stop being a useful political strategy to advance either the common interests of U.S. citizens or the specific interests of immigrants?
There are, of course, many other questions that need to asked and answered. None are easy, and nobody has all the answers.
It is incumbent, though, on the organizations that claim to be America’ voice on liberal immigration reform and on the foundations that empower them to pause to consider the wisdom and efficacy of their standard positions on immigration reform. Instead, they push so confidently, so heedlessly forward, and expecting all of us to follow -- onward to another CIR defeat.
Next in Border Lines' CIR series: “Four-Pillar Structure” of Immigration Reform Movement
(Thirteenth in Border Lines series on Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
Liberal immigration reform failed in the Bush administration for many reasons.
The leading immigrant-rights organizations that directed the grassroots and policy advocacy campaigns for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) during Bush’s second term stress two external and two internal factors in CIR’s defeat.
These organizations grouped together in the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR), which disbanded last year.
Central to the policy advocacy work of CCIR were the National Immigration Forum and National Council of La Raza. Its national networking with immigrant-rights groups was spearheaded by the Center for Community Change through its Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM). The leading labor partners were SEIU and Unite Here, unions with a large immigrant base.
Outside the organizing and advocacy umbrella created by CCIR were many other immigrant-rights groups, unions, ethnic, and community organizations that also campaigning for CIR. Scores of these organizations came together in another short-lived immigrant-rights coalition called Unity Blueprint. (More in a forthcoming article in this series about divisions within the immigrant-rights movement.)
The post-Sept. 11 security climate and the anti-immigrant backlash led by restrictionist institutes and the sectors of the media are the two external factors frequently cited by CCIR principals as determinants in the CIR struggle.
As Cecilia Muñoz, outgoing senior vice president for the office of research, advocacy and legislation of the National Council of La Raza, told the Carnegie Reporter in its "Immigration: The Reform Movement Rebuilds" cover article: “September 11 changed everything. It made the hill we need to climb much higher and added a whole new dimension on national security to the debate and increased the government’s ability to persecute particular people using immigration law.”
The other external factor that made immigrant-rights organizing in support of CIR more difficult was the ever-expanding and more powerful immigration-backlash movement – which most observers cite as the principal reason why Congress failed to pass CIR.
Frank Sharry, director of America’s Voice, told the Carnegie Reporter: “Let’s not miss the fact that one of the reasons we lost the last time [in 2007] is that the anti-immigrant forces mobilized their advocates and the pro-reformers did not.”
Echoing this conclusion, Ali Noorani, who in 2008 took Sharry’s place as the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said: “Rather than clearly laying out the reason why immigration reform is necessary, we found ourselves in a box created by the language and goals of the opposition.”
The two internal factors that hindered CCIR’s work, according to its principals, were the lack of an adequate communications infrastructure and an insufficient networking strategy.
Sharry synthesized these two internal factors as two of the main questions and challenges facing the immigrant-rights movement: “How do we strengthen and build a communications effort that has more volume and velocity and, most importantly, how do we have a grassroots operation that is nationwide and is effective?”
Essentially, the immigrant-rights movement that emerged from the failed CCIR campaign is proceeding with a ‘more of the same’ strategy as it moves forward. More grassroots networking, more communications, and more funding. Same message, same partners, and same backers.
Convinced of the wisdom, humanity, and morality of its goal – passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes legalization of illegal immigrants and more visas for new immigrants – these same actors are now confident that a new, improved CIR will be considered by Congress by Thanksgiving 2009.
The well-funded, well-established, and self-assured national leaders of the immigrant-rights movement are not given to self-reflection or self-criticism despite decades of failure. Apparently never considered as other possible reasons for the continued failure to advance a pro-immigration platform is their own lack of credibility as voice of the American people or their tone-deaf messaging about immigration.
Unfortunately, their upgraded strategy for advancing CIR aggravates these problems, creating yet another reason to doubt that liberal immigration reform will happen any time soon.
Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Time for Strategic Pause in Immigration Reform?
Photo: Ali Noorani, executive director of National Immigration Forum
(Twelfth in Border Lines series on Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
Comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) is once again the central goal of the immigrant-rights movement. As it was during the Bush administration, legalization of the 11-12 million illegal immigrants living and working in the country is the sine qua non of any comprehensive immigration bill the movement would support.
In considering the feasibility of a new CIR campaign, it is helpful looking back to the failed 2004-2007 campaign to pass CIR. The steward of this campaign was the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR), whose leading organizations were the National Immigration Forum, Center for Community Change, National Council of La Raza.
Going into the campaign, a key problem for the involved groups was the absence in their ranks of a proposed immigration policy. These groups, particularly the National Immigration Forum and NCLR, were in the odd position of having worked for decades on immigration reform but of never having formulated a cohesive immigration reform policy they could take to Congress. Their abiding interest was not to lead the way toward a sensible and sustainable immigration policy but rather to represent the interests of immigrants and their families.
Other key CCIR organizations like the Center for Community Change and the labor union Unite Here were newcomers to immigration struggles and approached immigration not as a policy issue but as a community or labor organizing issue.
In other words, these groups and most others in the CCIR were concerned mainly with immigrant rights not immigration policy. When it came to forging an immigration reform that was comprehensive, they were – and are – not credibly situated. Immigration policy is necessarily about limits as well as openings to U.S. society and economy. Representing primarily immigrant communities, they were – and are – primarily about opening America to more immigrants.
In a policy debate over immigration, a pro-immigration lobby is essential to ensure that the debate is not controlled by the anti-immigration lobby. But, in effect, CCIR was less a pro-immigration lobby than a pro-immigrant lobby. As such, it was well-situated to advance the interests of immigrants – legal and illegal – but less prepared to advance a pro-immigration position that spoke for the interests and concerns of citizens and voters.
Nonetheless, as part of the CIR campaign, these groups did begin to articulate a pro-immigration position on the various CIR bills before Congress.
Whereas their mission with respect to immigration reform was for various reasons to protect the interests of immigrants and would-be immigrants, they were obligated in the CIR debate to take positions on components of comprehensive reform that were fundamentally restrictive, such as border control, employment verification, national security, and the conditions of legalization.
Understandably, they weren’t inclined to stand behind immigration restrictions but for the sake of their credibility in Congress and with the media, they increasingly adopted at least rhetorical positions of the restrictive components of immigration reform. But these positions came not from well-developed policy statements but largely as reactions to the demands of the changing policy debate.
From the outset CCIR in 2004 gave a nod to enforcement, rule of law, and security issues in its formulation of CIR principles. But these restrictive components of a proposed CIR were clearly dependent on an immigration reform that legalized the illegal immigrants, facilitated family reunification, and greatly increased visas for legal immigration.
The coalition said that it “organizes and mobilizes the voices and power of the pro-immigrant movement in support of national legislation that incorporates key principles for immigration reform:
* Reform Must Be Comprehensive
* Provide a Path to Citizenship
* Protect Workers
* Reunite Families
* Restore the Rule of Law and Enhance Security
* Promote Citizenship and Civic Participation and Help Local Communities
“Participation in the campaign,” said CCIR, “simply requires a commitment to a set of immigration reform principles and to engage in coordinated activity, as appropriate.”
As it evolved, CCIR added more flesh to its reform principles, reflecting the rightward direction of the immigration debate.
Next in CIR Series: Reasons for Failure of Liberal Immigration Reform
(Eleventh in Border Lines series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
The leaders of the immigrant-rights movement are once again mobilizing in support of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). The same figures that created the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) in 2004 are now organizing to move a future CIR bill – as yet not introduced or even proposed – through Congress in late 2009 and early 2010.
More than sixty reporters participated Jan. e in a briefing via conference call – titled “A Movement for Reform, Making Immigration Reform Happen with the new President and Congress” -- sponsored by the National Immigration Forum. The featured presenters were Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, Janet Murguia, president of National Council of La Raza; Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, and John Wilhelm, president of Unite Here.
If we are to believe the directors of the National Immigration Forum, America’s Voice, and National Council of La Raza, CIR is around the corner in the Obama administration. However, the past political and analytical failures of this same circle of immigrant-rights groups – to say nothing of any more measured evaluation of the country’s economic and political realities -- leave plenty of room for skepticism.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told reporters that “2009 will be the year for immigration reform.” According to Noorani:
"At this moment we are on the cusp of a sea change in the United States of
Certainly the country needs a sensible and sustainable immigration reform. But these DC groups seem more interested in appealing to their own circumscribed constituencies than reaching out to America with a persuasive pro-immigration message and political strategy.
(Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Immigrant Principles of Immigration Reform.)
Photo: Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice
(Tenth in Border Lines series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
Summarizing the fate of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR), the Carnegie Reporter in a cover article about the Carnegie Corporation grantees who led the coalition, concluded:
“Despite all this intense effort the coalition was unable to develop a broad and strong enough movement to prevail.”
The article, “Immigration: The Reform Movement Rebuilds,” then describes the new strategy adopted by America’s Voice, National Immigration Forum, National Council of La Raza, Center for Community Change – the same groups that led CCIR – to rebuild the immigration reform movement. Basically, the strategy is to do the same type of outreach, advocacy, and communications work as CCIR but to do more of it and to do it better.
Unquestioned as they move forward is their immigrant-rights message.
Reflecting on the past, Frank Sharry, who directed the National Immigration Forum for 17 years before moving over to become director of the newly created America’s Voice, said the movement is working to answer such questions as: “What is the best policy approach going forward? How do we strengthen and build a communications effort that has more volume and velocity and, most importantly, how do we have a grassroots operation that is nationwide and is effective?”
Sharry and other immigrant-rights leaders blame CCIR’s failure on being outgunned by the opposition. “Let’s not miss the fact that one of the reasons we lost the last time [in 2007] is that the anti-immigrant forces mobilized their advocates and the pro-reformers did not,” said Sharry. To ensure that the immigrant-rights movement has a “communication effort designed to more directly challenge those who oppose immigration reform,” the Carnegie Corporation provided a $6.5 million two-year grant for the establishment of the America’s Voice Educational Fund.
As the Carnegie Reporter noted, the CCIR “closed in February 2008 [and] America’s Voice (www.americasvoiceonline.org), an organization that grew out of this coalition, opened in March 2008 as a communications effort.”
As the immigration reform movement, which the Carnegie Corporation and other liberal funders are generously backing, is rebuilding, there has been little reflection on the resonance, appropriateness, or wisdom of its messaging. Instead, the emphasis is amplifying its immigrant-rights argument for immigration reform through new funding for a barrage of communications instruments – blogs, videos, media releases, polls – with variations of the same message that failed so miserably in the CIR campaign.
Rather than forging a message aimed at U.S. citizens, the reconstituted movement continues to equate immigrant rights with immigration reform. Despite the “America’s Voice” name, that’s not a message that’s likely to win citizen support for liberal immigration reform.
Also central to the reconstituted movement is a concerted campaign to delegitimize the leading restrictionist organizations – Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA, and Center for Immigration Studies – as nativists, hate groups, and racists. Meanwhile, these institutes have reshaped their anti-immigration message to adapt to the changing economic times and to the Obama administration.
Next in Border Lines CIR Series: Immigration Change Some Can Believe In
(Ninth in Border Lines series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
The coalition and its organizers adopted a “united front” strategy aimed at bringing together immigrant-rights and community groups, ethnic organizations, labor unions, and church organizations. Describing the coalition, Rebecca Rittgers, human rights program director at Atlantic Philanthropies, wrote:
“I’m very excited about the people we have at the table and the period in which we find ourselves. I am extremely excited about the Hispanic leadership, the Latino leadership participating in the coalition, in addition to the whole spectrum of groups that are involved because it’s so important to have a united front on immigration issues.”
A central challenge in creating a united front is adopting a consensus message. In the case of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR), consensus was built around common support for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).
But CCIR members were largely immigrant-rights groups, or other organizations – ethnic, labor, community organizing – whose entry to the CIR issue was immigrant rights. While some like the National Immigration Forum and the Immigration Policy Center wrote and spoke out about immigration policy, none of the groups came to the coalition with an immigration policy agenda that extended beyond their own special interests, such as protecting immigrant rights, expanding the immigrant voting bloc, strengthening the position of illegal immigrant workers.
In other words, what united the members of CCIR was their conviction that what was good for illegal immigrants and prospective immigrants was what was best for America. The coalition’s support for CCIR was based on their belief that legalization, family reunification visas, and expanded visas (all with a path to citizenship) were central to any comprehensive immigration reform worth its name.
While there was some rhetorical support for effective border control and a workable immigration system, the coalition’s members were hardly enthusiastic supporters of what CIR came to mean in the several years before it went down to defeat in mid-2007.
The new concern about homeland security and the building anti-immigration backlash pushed CIR proposals further away from the kind of liberal immigration reform that CCIR members advocated. While still including a provision for legalization, successive CIR proposals in Congress ramped up the border security and employment-verification components.
At the same time, the amnesty provision – which CCIR considered central – became increasingly restrictive. Partly in reaction to the successful restrictionist campaign to eliminate “amnesty” as a policy option, CIR proponents adopted a new terminology, such as “earned citizenship” and “pathway to citizenship,” to signal that citizenship would not come quickly or easily.
The adoption of a new terminology and approach to legalization also reflected awareness that all immigrants didn’t support a quick path to citizenship for the illegal immigrants. Many legal immigrants believed, as is now reflected in Democratic Party rhetoric, that the illegal aliens should go to the back of the line in their application for citizenship, making way for the many family members of legal immigrants who had been waiting for many years to have their applications processed.
But this distancing from “amnesty” proved a slippery slope. As part of CIR negotiating in Congress, the proposed “path to citizenship” became daunting, including not only the expected obligations of learning English but also punitive fees and “touchback” provisions that caused some within CIR to withdraw their support for the compromise bill in 2007.
In an aim to win conservative and moderate support for CIR, the leading members of CIR have continued down this slippery slope away from amnesty. Led by America’s Voice and the Center for American Progress, together with NDN (a Democratic Party policy institute), the remnants of the CIR coalition have organized a new messaging stressing that the onus to get legalized is borne by the illegal immigrants themselves: “get right with the law” and “requir(ing)” immigrants to register.
As the immigration backlash intensified, the leading CCIR members moved decidedly to the right in their advocacy of CIR. As part of a strategy of compromise, the pro-CIR message moved from promoting a “nation of immigrants” toward insisting that America should be a “nation of laws.”
The increasing willingness of the Washington, DC leaders of CCIR disgusted and frustrated many CCIR members, while the DC organizations – including National Council of La Raza, National Immigration Forum, Center for Community Change – believed that CIR was doomed without the compromises demanded by conservatives and moderates in Congress.
By the time CCIR shut down in late 2007, the “united front” of its formative years was badly frayed. But the principal organizations behind CCIR remained a team and regrouped with new strategies, as described in the “Immigration: The Reform Movement Rebuilds,” published in the Fall 2008 Carnegie Reporter.
Unquestioned, either by the CCIR principals or by those who dissented with the CIR compromises, is that “immigrant rights” should remain at the center of an immigration reform movement.
See related analysis:
“Democrats to Immigrants: “Get Right With the Law”
“Contradictions of Comprehensive Immigration Reform”
Photo by Andy Carvin
Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Rebuilding the Movement with Same Message
(Eighth in Border Lines series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
“We’ve made every mistake imaginable. We’ve been at times too big and too democratic; at times we’ve been too small and too insular, and neither works very well.”
That’s what Frank Sharry, dean of the immigrant-rights movement and chief of America’s Voice, told the Carnegie Reporter, when describing the movement’s recent history and its campaign for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).
Initially, a planning grant in 2003 from Atlantic Philanthropies did provide for a discussion among some 150 immigrant-rights, community, and labor organizations interested in organizing to secure approval of a CIR bill.
Initially, the resulting Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) had twelve board members from the following organizations: National Council of La Raza, Center for Community Change, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE), National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, National Immigration Forum, Service Employees International Union, Piñeros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, New York Immigration Coalition, and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
Later, as part of the process alluded to by Sharry (then-executive director of National Immigration Forum), CCIR’s leadership was narrowed to six individuals: Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change; Cecilia Muñoz, National Council of La Raza; Frank Sharry, National Immigration Forum; Chung-Wha Hong, New York Immigration Coalition; and Eliseo Medina, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Tom Snyder, UNITE HERE.
In an attempt to keep these high-powered national groups from overly dominating the coalition, a larger strategy council of some forty members was established and there were national conference calls involving all CCIR partners – a practice that the National Immigration Forum has continued.
Aside from the issues about the CCIR’s structure, there were persistent concerns about the political compromises that were negotiated into the various CIR proposals under congressional considerations.
Javier Rodriquez, a leading organizing of the March 25, 2006 march in Los Angeles, typified the radical, noncompromising spirit of much of the immigrant-rights organizing in 2006. Writing in 2007, Rodriquez advocated militant organizing to have immigrant rights respected:
In one of the few reviews of the immigrant-rights movement, Dan LaBotz described a central tension between social idealism and political realism that runs through the movement – and most popular movements that have a policy agenda. LaBotz in his “Immigrant Rights Movement” essay doesn’t hide his own left political sympathies, but his broad schematic of the movement is nonetheless helpful in understanding at part of the tensions that underlay the movement for CIR.
According to LaBotz:
"On the one hand a coalition of the major religious, labor and immigrant
Furthermore, LaBotz postulated:
"One could say that these represent two poles of the Latino movement: one
In conclusion, LaBotz asked:
“Will the Latinos and other immigrants flow into the channels of institutional
Much of the populist, leftist energy for a national immigrant-rights movement that would not only lead the way forward to CIR but also energize new workers’ and civil rights movements dissipated by the end of 2006.
Marches planned for September 2006 and through mid-2007 didn’t attract the same massive numbers seen in the March-May 2006 demonstrations. Among the reasons cited for the declining numbers were the continuing immigrant crackdown, discouragement with the CIR bills in Congress, the ever-building immigration backlash, and the clashing views of immigrant-rights leaders.
A major problem that confronted the immigrant-rights movement – both the radicals and the reformers – was that the main constituents of the movement were noncitizens. While the large numbers in America’s streets did impress, the immigrants who were proclaiming that “We Are America” didn’t have the power of the vote.
The sad fact was that they weren’t certified Americans until legal Americans and their representatives stood behind them – which hasn’t yet happened.
Next: The United Front Strategy of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
(Seventh in Border Lines series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
"Immigrant-rights" as a defining message in American politics received new prominence when millions of immigrants took to the streets in March-May 2006 to demand the defeat of the new anti-immigrant bills emerging from the House of Representatives and its restrictionist Immigration Reform Caucus.
The marches, organized by local immigrant-rights groups and ethnic organizations in close cooperation with Spanish-media outlets, piggybacked on the labor organizing of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides a few years early. Although depending heavily on the support of nonimmigrant groups such as labor, the church, and progressive activists, the marches that brought millions of immigrants to the streets were largely a self-organized response by immigrants to the deepening immigrant crackdown.
Paralleling the new activism by immigrants was a growing backlash movement that found harbor within the Republican Party. At the same time that CIR advocates were organizing, educating, and lobbying, the congressional Republicans, working closely with the restrictionist institutes in Washington, were mounting new initiatives to ramp up border control and interior immigration enforcement.
Despite statements from the White House favoring a CIR that included legalization, the Bush administration was demonstrating its effective commitment to an “attrition through enforcement” policy by unleashing the Department of Homeland Security on the immigrant population.
The House’s approval of the Border Protection, Anti terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 signalled that the climate for immigrants might seriously worsen rather than improve as the prospects for CIR diminished. The December 2005 approval of the draconian "Sensenbrenner Bill," known after its sponsor, Cong. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) sparked a wave of immigrant-rights marches in early 2006.
The Sensenbrenner bill, which would have made all illegal immigrants felons, never made it through the Senate – which the immigrant-rights movement chalked up as a victory for its mobilization.
While CCIR was focused primarily on strategies to build support for CIR, numerous immigrant-rights groups, including many who were part of the 150-member coalition, were more focused on battling the rise of anti-immigrant vigilante groups like the Minutemen and other manifestations of the anti-immigrant backlash movement.
The immigrant-rights marches from February through May 2006 brought unprecedented numbers of immigrants into the streets to demand an end to the mounting immigrant crackdown. But behind the apparent unity of these millions of immigrants and supporters protesting harsh immigration enforcement measures unleashed by the Bush administration and proposed by Congress belied deepening divisions among immigrant-rights activists.
The “We Are America” and “No Human Being is Illegal” placards papered over differences in tactics and politics. "When the dust settles, we will see who the leaders are," said Jesse Diaz, an original leader of the March 25 Coalition that inspired the Los Angeles march, which put the immigrant movement on the map.
Diaz told the Washington Post that while mainstream immigrant organizations were "complacently ignoring what was happening in Washington" last December, his coalition diverted its fight with the Minutemen in California and Arizona to organize protests against House legislation that would criminalize illegal immigrants and those who help them. "Where were they then?" questioned Diaz in reference to many of the leading groups in the CCIR coalition.
Despite many internal divisions over politics, principles, and strategies, the immigrant-rights marches gave all immigrant-rights organizations a new sense of power and a belief that history was on their side. Emboldened by the Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides, during which immigrant workers were praised as the vanguard of a new civil rights and workers movement, immigrant-rights groups were further empowered and encouraged by the marches of spring 2006.
In their Dec. 2006 paper for the University of California (Davis), “The Immigrant Rights Marches of 2006 and the Prospects for a New Civil Rights Movement,” prominent immigration scholars Bill Ong Hing and Kevin R. Johnson summarized the new immigrant enthusiasm and hope.
“Activists proclaimed that the marches represented ‘the new civil rights
Echoing a widespread belief among many leftist immigrant-rights activists, writer Justin Akers Chacón proclaimed, “Equal rights for immigrants would also help revitalize a labor movement in crisis, as immigrant workers are offering the best hope for all workers in this country.”
In May 2006, many immigrant-rights leaders – most of whom were U.S. citizens – believed that mass mobilization was the best guarantee for the type of liberal policy reform they were demanding.
As Chacón, the coauthor of No One Is Illegal, asserted:
“Only when the politicians are confronted by a mass movement of workers and
This type of political rhetoric continued and the triumphalism that accompanied such “power to the people” policy analysis persisted on the left-wing of the immigrant-rights movement. But as the immigrant crackdown intensified and the immigrant demonstrators left the streets, divisions among the immigrant-rights activists grew and the path toward CIR became fraught with obstacles and compromises.
Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Uncertain Path Toward Comprehensive Immigration Reform
(Sixth in a Border Lines Series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
The labor-sponsored Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides of 2003 and the CCIR-sponsored New American Freedom Summer of 2004 contributed to a mounting conviction among immigrant-rights organizations that they were the vanguard of rising workers and civil rights movements in America.
With generous foundation backing from such foundations as Atlantic Philanthropies, Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, and other liberal foundations committed to empowering the country’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable sectors, the immigrant-rights movement has over the past thirty years, and especially over the past six years, become the chosen instrument to lead the popular and congressional campaign for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).
Even after the total defeat of this campaign in mid-2007, when the Senate declined to move a compromise CIR bill forward to a vote, the same constellation of groups that have been the public voice for liberal immigration policy for the past few decades is being funded by these foundations to carry the CIR campaign into the Obama administration with their same immigrant-rights messaging and the focus on the same constituencies.
There is no doubt that the country benefits from having a strong immigrant-rights movement with DC institutes and grassroots networks spread across the country given the escalating scale of immigrant human rights abuses. But the history of failure in creating public and congressional support for liberal immigration reform should raise questions about the near sacrosanct strategy of transforming the immigrant-rights movement into an immigration reform movement.
Labor, Catholic Church, Democratic Party -- Major Players
At the turn of the 21st century, immigrants represented the fastest growing segment of U.S. society, and major institutions and interests were eager to attract the million-plus immigrants who entered the U.S. each year into their fold. Labor, the Catholic Church, and the Democratic Party together with the Spanish-language media and corporations eager to attract mainly Latino consumers hovered around the booming immigrant advantage seeking advantage and mutual benefit.
In this mix were also left political groups that regarded the new mostly working class population with foreign roots as a new constituency that could revitalize the American left given their proclivity for popular organizing and their internationalist consciousness.
At a time when immigrants were experiencing a mounting anti-immigrant backlash, they also found themselves welcomed into America by a constellation of high-powered U.S. institutions that declared solidarity with their plight as a vulnerable population but at the same time a great potential for strengthening such core American institutions as organized labor, the Catholic Church, and the Democratic Party.
Labor, particularly unions that represented restaurant and other service workers, were reviving their memberships with immigrant workers, while the Catholic Church regarded immigrants, particularly Latinos, as likely new congregants, and the Democratic Party had a compelling interest in incorporating as many new immigrants into the voting rolls because they tended to vote Democratic.
The self-interest in the outreach efforts and policy pronouncement of these powerful institutions can’t be denied, but neither should the heartfelt bonds of solidarity and empathy be underestimated as motivating forces in this new convergence between immigrants and their institutional supporters.
All three institutional actors that contributed to the reemergence of the immigrant-rights movement in the 2002-2007 period had their own special interests – as well as humanitarian and political principles -- in seeing a CIR proposal move Similarly, leftist organizations regarded the burgeoning immigrant-rights movement and in particular their mass mobilizations as a catalyst for a united front campaign that could bring progressives of all stripes together to advance common agendas
Certainly the mounting immigrant crackdown and the rising anti-immigrant backlash constituted the political context for immigrant mobilization during the Bush administration. But many of the prominent political features of this new organizing were hardly new. The demands for worker rights, an internationalist view of the immigration issue, the rights messaging, and even the sense that immigrant struggles constituted the cusp of a new political movement were echoes of 20th century movements.
Origins of Immigrant Rights Organizing
Tracing the immigrant-rights movement can take you back to the Palmer Raids of the 1920s or the key role that immigrants played in organizing many of the nation’s labor unions. But perhaps relevant and instructive to understanding the foundation of today’s immigrant-rights movement were the splits that developed in the Latino movements and organizations in the late 1960s.
Some close observers and activists in the immigrant-rights movement trace often trace the origins of the civil rights and worker themes of immigrant organizing to the emergence of the Chicano movement in the late 1960s, in particular to its leftist flank. Groups like El Congreso broke with more conservative Latino organization like LULAC in insisting that illegal immigrants were part of a larger rights movement that included both Mexican-Americans and Mexicans.
Bert Corona, the co-founder in 1968 of the Centro de Acción Social Autónomo-Hermandad General de Trabajadores and Congreso member, popularized the political principle that just as there should be unity among all workers – citizen and noncitizens – there should be unity among all Spanish-speaking people in the United States, no matter their citizenship status. “An attack on one Spanish-speaking group was an attack on all," wrote Corona, a member of the Congreso.
Recounting the history of the immigrant-rights movement, Mexico specialist Dan LaBotz points to the internationalist, class-based, and civil rights perspective that groups like Congreso and La Hermandad brought to the debate about immigrants among unions and ethnic groups.
Citing activist historian Arnoldo García, LaBotz wrote that these groups focused on the needs of "undocumented Mexican workers and their families" and brought to the struggle the "conjugation of a class base with social justice and liberation aspirations." The CASA newspaper Sin Fronteras (Without Border) carried on its masthead the slogan, "We are One because America [meaning the continent] is One."
This type of new thinking among Chicano activists contributed to building a new conviction among all Latino organizations and even unions like the United Farmworkers that immigrant-rights issues were less of a threat to established Latino organizations and more of an opportunity to expand their base. At the same time, though, this type of thinking about crossborder unity and class solidarity injected new tensions within Latino movements that were inclined toward mainstream, moderate, and nonconfrontational strategies.
Immigrant-rights as an organizing strategy received a boost in the early 1980s, largely because of the eventually success in beating back more restrictive immigration legislation, slowing down the pace of deportations, and finding strong allies among Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition and struggling for their “rights” to remain in the country because of the devastating role of U.S. foreign policy in the Caribbean Basin region.
In the mid-1990s, as U.S. immigration laws became more restrictive and punitive, an array of immigrant-rights groups and supporting legal networks arose to protect the rights of immigrants facing detention and deportation. Working with such groups as the National Lawyer Guild, ACLU, and the newly created Detention Watch Network, a constellation of immigrant-rights networks across the nation struggled to protect the due process rights of detained immigrants.
Although immigrants benefited from an array of immigrant-rights groups – including such prominent ones as Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Committee, National Capitol Area Immigration Coalition, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles – it was not until the Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides of 2003, the establishment of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform CCIR in late 2003 and the closely associated We are America Alliance in 2005 that the immigrant-rights movement emerged as a main player in immigration reform issues.
Typical of this conviction that immigrant organizing was at the forefront of a new wave of progressive, rights-oriented mobilization was an analysis by Carmellia Phillips of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights published by Political Research Associates in 2002.
More than simply responding to anti-immigrant groups and policies, the movement was “bringing immigrant rights into the larger movement for racial justice, labor rights, global economic equality, and human rights,” wrote Phillips.
She summarized a widely believed conviction among immigrant-rights activists when writing that the proper framework for understanding the immigration issue was not law enforcement but rather human rights. “We must work consciously and collaboratively to avoid falling back on arguments that do not support the rights of all immigrants or that divide immigrants based on legal status or national origin,” she wrote.
Furthermore, “We must work to defend and expand human rights (which include labor, cultural, civil, social, environmental, and economic rights) for everyone, regardless of immigration status, and to recognize racial equality and justice as critical to expanding a progressive immigrant rights movement.”
Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Immigrant Groups Raise Voices for Immigrant Rights
(Sixth in Border Lines series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
The creation of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) came on the heels of the labor-initiated and -organized Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride of Sept. 20 – Oct 3, 2003.
As part of a strategy to build mulitsectoral support for undocumented immigrants, the AFL-CIO and other labor unions, notably Unite HERE and SEIU, organized a national caravan of immigrants and sympathizers to highlight the plight of immigrant workers. Freedom Ride organizers sought to liken the struggle of immigrant workers for fair treatment on the job to the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s and, in particular, to the Freedom Rides campaign launched by students in 1961.
The goal was to mobilize students, church activists, and progressives, just as the struggles of Blacks in the South sparked a nationwide civil rights movement. Underlying the new immigrant-rights movement was a conviction that mass mobilization and a rights-based messaging about immigration would propel comprehensive immigration reform forward. Organizations that were central to CCIR were principals – including National Immigration Forum and National Council of La Raza -- in the associated Immigrant Workers Freedom Coalition.
In its proclamation about the Immigrant Workers Freedom Campaign, the AFL-CIO embraced an immigrant-rights position on CIR:
“The AFL-CIO believes that such legislative reform must include, at a minimum: (1) legalization, including the right of immigrant workers in the United States to live and work in this country and become its citizens; and (2) the right of immigrant workers to unite their families in the United States if they wish.”
CCIR put its newly acquired financial and organizational might behind the Freedom Ride strategy of immigrant mobilization. In 2004 it sponsored the New American Freedom Summer, which was made possible by grants from the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. The New American Freedom Summer, which brought immigrant-rights speakers to summer organizing sessions with students and others, was self-described as a program of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the New American Opportunity Fund, a project of the Tides Center in San Francisco.
According to CCIR, the Freedom Summer project drew inspiration from the student activism of the 1960s around civil rights issues in the South. It modeled its summer organizing and education campaign on the states of Arizona and Florida, saying that it was standing “with immigrant communities in their struggle to live in safety, secure the right to vote, and to win equal treatment and full citizenship. Once again, a group of committed Americans, many of them young people, answered the call and participated in this generation’s battle for the soul of America.”
Its primary goals were “to build on the unprecedented success of last year’s Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride and take another step forward in forging a movement strong enough to win a safe, legal, orderly, and fair fix to our nation’s broken immigration laws,” and “to build the next generation of immigrant-rights leaders.”
The Freedom Rides mobilization of 2003 and follow-up educational and organizing effort by CCIR in the summer of 2004 did energize immigrant-rights organizers and their supporters, but this left-of-center activism also drew the fire of the restrictionists.
Mark Krikorian, director of the restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies, pointed to the backlash potential of this immigrant-rights organizing in 2003 in his “Freeloaders” commentary in National Review online – an assessment that echoed over the next few years in the wake of immigrant-rights organizing that brought millions of immigrants to the streets across America to denounce the incipient anti-immigrant crackdown and to demand legalization. Krikorian wrote:
"If you wanted a way of persuading Republican congressmen to support something, the last thing you'd do is have the AFL-CIO organize a bus convoy of illegal aliens appropriating the rhetoric of the civil-rights movement, endorsed by the Communist party.
From its beginning, CCIR had integral ties with the liberal Center for American Progress policy institute in Washington, DC founded and directed by John Podesta. A key CAP figure in CCIR and in the DC immigrant-rights organizations like National Immigration Forum was Maria Echaveste, a senior CAP fellow and founder of the Nueva Vista Group.
Echaveste’s office at Nueva Vista was given as the primary contact for CCIR by Atlantic Philanthropies and CCIR itself. Nueva Vista was paid by CCIR to provide lobbying and consulting services. At a forum sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation on the future of Hispanics, Echaveste told the forum: “Citizenship is in their interest for a stake in society.” Given the impressive numbers taking part in recent mass mobilization, she said she was hopeful that “the stage has been set for comprehensive reform.”
Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Immigrant Rights Organizing 2003-2204
(Fifth in a Border Lines' Series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
The country needs an immigrant-rights movement – a movement that fights back against the many abuses suffered my immigrants on the job and as part of the immigrant crackdown.
Time and again, immigrants have organized themselves to demand fair treatment and to better themselves.
Immigrants have unionized, organized community development associations, marched and demonstrated to secure their rights as workers and members of U.S. society.
In their struggles, immigrants haven’t been alone. Immigrant aid societies, legal associations like the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights, churches, and labor unions have long provided critical support and credibility for immigrants, legal and illegal.
Throughout U.S. history, the country has benefited from immigrant-rights movements. But what Carnegie Corporation calls the “immigration reform movement” led by immigrants is a more recent phenomenon. The foundation in the cover article in its Carnegie Reporter, “Immigration – The Reform Movement Rebuilds,” situates the groups and individuals that led the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) at the center of this immigration reform movement.
The concept is that immigration policy reform should be driven by an immigrant-rights agenda and by immigrant-rights groups. It is a concept that has been generously embraced by liberal foundations like the Carnegie Corporation. What’s so striking is that this strategy – having immigrant-rights groups spearhead immigration policy reform -- remains unquestioned by immigrant-rights groups and the foundations that fund them, despite its repeated failures.
In keeping with their commitment to protect and empower the disadvantaged sectors, liberal foundations have since the early 1980s nurtured immigrant-rights and ethnic groups as their voice in the immigration debate. As a result, there is a national network of immigrant-rights and ethnic organizations that work on behalf of the immigrant population.
Early in the Bush administration these immigrant-rights and ethnic groups, principally National Council of La Raza, began discussions among themselves and with the foundations about using their networks to advance the cause of comprehensive immigration reform.
An Atlantic Philanthropies planning grant in 2003 brought together a dozen immigrant advocacy organization – “from labor, community development, ethnic identified groups, national immigration advocacy, and regional immigration coalitions” – to establish the coalition and set a common strategy.
The result was the creation in 2004 of CCIR, which as a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt entity could engage in legislative advocacy and lobbying. Atlantic Philanthropies also granted money to establish a related 501(c)(3) public-education organization called the New American Opportunity Campaign to work on “leadership development, advocacy, organizing, and base-building efforts at the national, regional, and local levels.”
Describing the initiative to other foundations in 2005, Atlantic’s Reconciliation & Human Rights Program director Rebecca Rittgers said, “To galvanize the movement, and further the human rights of all immigrants in this country, we also need to further grassroots mobilization, judicial advocacy, research and dissemination, and the key to everything is communications. And communications tools and capacity building are great vehicles for funders to work together.”
“What’s important to us,” said Rittgers, “is we’re trying to give a voice to those who have never had
a voice. There’s no better group that fits that criterion than the undocumented people in this country.” The goal of this funding was to get CIR passed. As Rittgers stressed, immigration reform “needs to be comprehensive and address the issues of family reunification, enforcement, and future guest worker policy.”
With its headquarters in Washington, CCIR set out to build a grassroots movement to support CIR and to mount a lobbying campaign in Congress. The Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) was self-described as “a new collaborative developed by national and local community, immigrant, labor and policy leaders in 2004. Based in Washington, DC, the mission and central purpose of the CCIR is to pass progressive comprehensive immigration reform.”
CCIR had a six-person board: Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change; Cecilia Muñoz, National Council of La Raza; Frank Sharry, National Immigration Forum; Chung-Wha Hong, New York Immigration Coalition; and Eliseo Medina, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Tom Snyder, UNITE HERE.
From its beginning, CCIR was beset with tensions. As the Carnegie Reporter article recalled:
“Initial meetings of what became the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform meetings brought together 150 groups to discuss strategy, and some devolved into tense sessions of finger pointing and accusations of bad faith, turf and resource hoarding and general positioning for power. On the other hand, meetings of small groups of people brought accusations from colleagues that these relatively few leaders, many of whom were based in Washington, D.C., were not being held accountable for their decisions by members of the coalition.
“In a quest to improve the situation, a decision was made in late 2006 to form a 43-member strategy council with a mandate to coordinate on fast-breaking developments and hold informational conference calls to keep others around the country in the loop. This helped develop a sense of transparency and trust. In addition, the Coalition organized regular conference calls involving 100 to 200 people.”
With the collapse of CIR in the Senate in mid-2007, CCIR also shut down. As the Carnegie Report notes, “Despite all this intense effort the coalition was unable to develop a broad and strong enough movement to prevail.”
Next: Immigrant-Rights Movement in Action 2003-2007
(Fourth in a Border Lines' Series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
The Carnegie Corporation’s report, “Immigration: The Reform Movement Rebuilds,” rightly places today’s immigrant-rights movement in the context of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR). The coalition was the foundation-backed movement to advance comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) in the Bush’s second term.
The structure, strategy, and messaging of the post-CIR immigrant-rights movement are a direct outgrowth of the now-extinct CCIR. In close consultation with their grantees – including National Immigration Forum, Immigration Policy Center (part of American Immigration Law Foundation), National Council of La Raza, and Center for Community Change, among others – most of the major liberal foundations early in the first Bush administration joined together to establish and maintain an expanded immigrant-rights movement led largely by Washington, DC. organizations.
The primary goal was to create the grassroots support and policy advocacy capacity needed to pass CIR, and the strategy adopted to advance this goal was to empower a national network of immigrant, community, and labor organizations united by their immigrant-rights messaging. While the leading coalition players were funded separately by Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, and other liberal foundations (organized into a consortium called the Four Freedoms Fund), Atlantic Philanthropies was the principal foundation behind CCIR.
The story of the immigration reform movement can’t be understood apart from foundation funding. The CCIR was a product less of a burgeoning immigrant rights organizing than of a decision by Atlantic Philanthropies in 2003 to focus on immigration reform as one of its leading priorities. Although established in 1982, it wasn’t until 1997 that the foundation started making public grants in its name.
One of the world’s largest foundations, Atlantic Philanthropies, established by businessman Charles Feeney (who made a fortune building an empire of airport duty-free shops), decided in mid-2003 to spend down its multi-billion dollar endowment over the next 12-15 years. Immigration reform was one of priority funding areas of the foundation’s Reconciliation and Human Rights Program; and starting in late 2003 the foundation began working closely with immigrant-rights organizations to launch a coalition movement that would serve as the public spearhead for comprehensive immigration reform.
The foundation was determined “to ensure that something would be left when we were no longer here.” According to Rebecaa Rittgers, executive director of the foundation's Reconciliation and Human Rights Program, “The decision was made with the caveat that we would spend it out in a way that would leave a tangible impact on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society.” Under its human rights program, immigration reform was selected as one of the three funding priorities.”
The foundation’s desire to serve the most vulnerable and disadvantaged found a perfect match in immigrant-rights organizations, which could credibly claim that they represented the interests of then 12-plus illegal immigrants. It was a perfect match, and the foundation initiated a strategy process that birthed CCIR in 2004.
The foundation tells the CCIR story this way:
“Atlantic has made three grants to date in support of this effort: a planning grant in the amount of $100,000, and two core support grants, one in 2004 which was renewed in 2005, totaling $7million.The initial planning grant enabled these twelve advocate groups – from labor, community development, ethnic identified groups, national immigration advocacy, and regional immigration coalitions – to come together at a common table and set a coordinated agenda and strategy. The two core support grants enacted this strategy – through advocacy, lobbying, communications, message and media development, grassroots mobilization and education efforts. To widen the reach and coordination of this ‘inside/outside’ strategy, a sister 501(c)(3) coalition, the New American Opportunity Campaign, was created by the CCIR.”CCIR was established as a 501(c) (4) nonprofit organization -- allowing it to lobby extensively for congressional bills. The New American Opportunity Campaign, which effectively became CCIR, was established as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that has more restrictive lobbying regulations.
The creation of the New American Opportunity Campaign opened up new funding opportunities for CCIR since many donors prefer granting to 501(c) (3) organizations.
According to Atlantic Philanthropies, CCIR was a “a joint legislative advocacy and grassroots mobilization initiative begun in 2003 with the mission to enact rights-centered comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the United States. This coalition effort is guided by a core set of rights-based immigration principles and priorities.”
Briefing other funders in 2005, Atlantic's Rittgers explained her program's strategy with regard to the role of immigrant-rights in immigration reform:
"What we’re trying is to take it to the next level, to play upon the investments that have been made to date, to bring all the key players together. To us, this mechanism of a coalition is the best bet."
Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Immigrant Rights Movement Gets Organized
(Third in a Border Lines' Series on Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
For the past three decades, pro- and anti-immigration institutes in Washington, DC have battled for their policy positions. Although it was the restrictionists that first set up camp in Washington – with the establishment of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 1979 – the pro-immigration forces generally had more success in gaining a hearing in Congress and in the media.
Today, it’s the restrictionists who clearly dominate the policy debate, while the pro-immigration groups struggle to have their voices heard over the restrictionist din about border security, respect for the law, and the broken immigration system.
It has been a variation of a left-right confrontation from the beginning – with the conservative foundations like Scaife and Smith Richardson historically funding the restrictionists and the liberal foundations like Carnegie and Ford funding the pro-immigration groups like National Immigration Forum. As the restrictionist institutes – FAIR, NumbersUSA, and Center for Immigration Studies – have expanded their influence, they broadened their funding base, drawing in wealthy private donors and hundreds of thousands of members. Meanwhile, the pro-immigration institutes continue to rely almost exclusively on a small set of liberal foundations.
There are dueling ideologies at play. On the restrictionist side, the institutes are guided by a zero-population growth ethic, while on the pro-immigration side the ideological drivers of the leading NGOs are respect for human rights, internationalism, and humanitarianism.
The pro-immigration organizations went into 21st century buoyed by a burst of immigrant organizing and a confidence buoyed by the rapid increase in the immigrant and Latino population in America. Immigrants organized Hometown Clubs that helped new immigrants from the same towns in Mexico, banks started offering mortgages and other loans to illegal immigrants, day labor centers were established, and liberal foundations and academics popularized the notion of “transborder communities” that spanned national borders in this age of globalization.
There arose a new sense of entitlement among the growing numbers of illegal immigrants that to a large decree merged with a deepening realization of the power – voting, economic, cultural, political – of Latinos. In recognition of the growing numbers of undocumented immigrants and in response to immigrant demands, many local governments and economic institutions adopted new practices that facilitated illegal-immigrant integration into U.S. life.
While the anti-immigration institutes were established with the clear goal of dramatically reducing immigration levels, their counterparts are less about making a case for immigration than they are about representing the interests of immigrants.
This has been their central strength and central failing as advocates for immigration policy reform – a strength the immigrant-rights message creates a base among immigrants and immigrant advocates throughout the country, and a failing because the immigrant-centered framing of immigration reform identifies these immigration reform advocates as a special interest lobby rather than as a more widely based citizens’ pro-immigration movement.
The “immigrant rights” identification is one that the leading pro-immigration organizations pin on themselves. The National Immigration Forum, for example, describes itself in these terms:
"Established in 1982, the National Immigration Forum is the nation’s premier immigrant rights organization. The Forum is dedicated to embracing and upholding America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants. The Forum advocates and builds public support for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees and are
In the aftermath of the mid-2007 defeat of CIR, the pro-immigration groups, aided by their foundation sponsors, began readying themselves for next congressional discussion of a CIR proposal. “Immigration: The Reform Movement Rebuilds,” the cover article in the Fall 2008 issue of the Carnegie Reporter, examines the reconstruction of the liberal immigration reform movement in the aftermath of the failure of the last CIR campaign.
The Carnegie article rightly notes that the “seeds of the pro-immigration movement are in the tradition of coalition relationships that began when the immigration reform debate started in the early 1980s.” From the beginning, the pro-immigration groups that formed to promote legalization of undocumented immigrants and refugees came to the immigration debate with an immigrant rights message.
Many of the main figures in the movement were closely associated with the Central American and Caribbean (mainly Haiti) solidarity and sanctuary movements. As such, their primary focus was to protect the rights of immigrants fleeing wars and political persecution. To further these goals, alliances were established with business, labor, ethnic, attorney, and church organizations that each for their own reasons supported liberal immigration policies.
The immigrant-rights movement surged early in the Bush administration –in response both to the deepening anti-immigration sentiment in the country (especially after Sept. 11) and to a major influx of foundation funding for immigrant-rights organizing. The surge in immigrant organizing was also in response to a surge of illegal immigrants who crossed the southern border to work in the booming constructions and service industries.
Finding themselves exploited and abused, immigrants organized themselves to demand decent wages and working conditions. Labor unions, notably the SEIU and Unite Here, not only made new commitments to organize immigrants but also likened their struggles to the civil rights battles of the 1960s -- organizing in 2003 the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride across the nation.
The Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) coordinated the NGO drive to pass CIR. Established in 2003 and closed down in the aftermath of CIR’s defeat, CCIR was an immigrant rights initiative launched and sustained with financial support of Atlantic Philanthropies.
Three successive grants from Atlantic Philanthropies for a total of $10 million underwrote what Atlantic called a “joint legislative advocacy and grassroots mobilization initiative with the mission to enact rights-centered comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the U.S. This coalition effort is guided by a core set of rights-based immigration principles and priorities, including: a path to permanency for the undocumented, family re-unification and labor protection for future flows.”
Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: The Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform – Foundation Funding
(Second in a Border Lines' series on the Movement for Comprhensive Immigration Reform.)
The NGO campaign to pass comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) in the second George W. Bush administration failed miserably. Even with a Democratic majority in both Houses and with the stated support of the president, CIR proponents repeatedly failed to advance liberal immigration reform in 2005-2007.
In contrast, those advancing a restrictionist reform agenda experienced numerous victories in Congress in the form of increased budget allocations for immigration enforcement and authorizations for new border security, employee verification, and immigrant detention measures. A massive response by the restrictionist forces in May-June 2007 far surpassed the grassroots organizing and advocacy efforts of the pro-immigration groups, and CIR supporters in the U.S. Senate failed to move the CIR bill forward to a vote.
Numerous factors contributed to the failure of CIR. (For a discussion of CIR, see Contradictions of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)
While President Bush supported CIR, he made little effort to corral Republican support, while at the same time he increasingly unleashed the Department of Homeland Security to pursue its immigrant crackdown campaign. A larger problem, though, was the diminishing bipartisan support for liberal immigration policies.
An immigration backlash movement started building in the mid-1990s, and after Sept. 11 the restrictionist movement accumulated new supporters with the merging of national security, border security, and homeland security policies. The expanding constituency of grassroots restrictionists persuaded the Republican Party to abandon its traditional pro-business position with respect to immigration and to embrace restrictionism.
Awareness of the growth of restrictionist sentiment also moved the Democratic Party from the left to the center on immigration policy, and many moderate and conservative Democrats increasingly espoused positions promoted by the restrictionist policy institutes in Washington.
Both parties have in the past several years found common ground in supporting tougher border control and in targeting immigrants as lawbreakers. And both parties are split between business supporters of guestworker and temporary workers programs and opponents (from immigration restrictionists to worker advocates) of these programs that primarily serve business demands for skilled and unskilled foreign labor.
Included in the CIR proposals, the guestworker provisions roiled the ranks of the Democratic Party. The common wisdom has been that any CIR bill needs to satisfy business demands for temporary workers if it is to count on business support.
But business support for CIR has been more rhetorical that real – not pulling its share in terms of educational, advocacy, and lobbying work. The failure of business to pull its weight at part of the traditional coalition – business, labor, immigrant rights groups, churches (mainline Protestant and Catholic), and immigration lawyers -- that supports liberal immigration policy has given more weight to those in the coalition that oppose or are highly critical of guestworker programs.
As a result, some coalition members demanded new labor regulations for guestworker programs, angering business supporters, while the inclusion of guestworker programs caused some former labor backers of CIR to drop their support.
Another factor in eroding the support for CIR was the addition of punitive conditions for those immigrants hoping to legalize their presence. High fees and touch-back provisions caused some in the immigrant-rights forces to abandon their support.
But it is commonly accepted that the rapid growth of restrictionist forces that was the major factor in stopping CIR during the Bush administration.
Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Dueling Strategies
(First in a Border Lines Series on the Movement Comprehensive Immigration Reform)
“Immigration – The Reform Movement Rebuilds” is the title of the cover story of the new Carnegie Reporter, the quarterly publication of the Carnegie Corporation. This article, an inside story from the New York City foundation that since 2001 awarded $35 million “in support of immigrant civic integration” is a good starting point to look at the fate and fortunes of the immigrant-rights movement in the United States.
As the article’s title suggests, the pro-immigration reform movement was dealt a serious blow by the failure of the U.S. Senate to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in mid-2007. But the 9-page article in the Carnegie Reporter is not an examination of the reasons and factors that may explain the failures of the movement and of CIR. Rather it’s an uncritical profile of the “immigration reform movement” that the foundation has generously funded at least since the early 1990s and that it is now currently helping to rebuild.
Nevertheless, the puff piece about the foundation’s funding of immigrant-rights groups that lead the NGO effort to pass liberal immigration reform is a good starting point to examine the history and current directions of this movement.
Interviewed for the Carnegie article were the leaders of this movement – all of whom being the principals of organizations funded by Carnegie. In some cases, the funding from the foundation to these organizations dates back a few decades.
Primarily these are the National Immigration Forum, Immigration Policy Center (part of the American Immigration Law Foundation), and the newly established America’s Voice. Two other lead organizations in this network are the National Council of La Raza and Center for Community Change.
Geri Mannion, who leads the U.S. Democracy Program and the Special Opportunities Fund of Carnegie Corporation, set the upbeat tone of the article. “This is an exciting time,” said Geri Mannion, “Despite their problems, issues, conflicts and disappointment about the bill failing, these advocates have come together to rethink the next phase of immigration reform and hopefully are stronger for what they have gone through.”
Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: The Failure of Comprehensive Immigration Reform