Opponents on Immigration Reform Gear Up for Forthcoming Battle

By Wood, Daniel B | The Christian Science Monitor, January 5, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Opponents on Immigration Reform Gear Up for Forthcoming Battle


Wood, Daniel B, The Christian Science Monitor


Obama has signaled he'll take up immigration reform soon. As a result, both sides are mobilizing their forces.

Immigration reform is far down on Washington's "to do" list,

after healthcare reform, the Afghanistan war, and job creation. But

outside the Beltway, in America's community centers and protest

venues, you'd think someone had already pushed the hot button to

bring this always-simmering issue to a boil.

Though the Obama administration and the Democrats who control

Congress are not expected to take up immigration reform until later

this year - and possibly not till the midterm elections are over

- both sides are already rallying their grass roots in anticipation

of a fight that, some say, could make the great immigration debate of

2007 look like a playground spat.

The end of 2009 saw opponents of reform organizing dozens of

anti-immigration "tea parties," while pro-reform groups

coordinated thousands of strategy sessions with local activists

across the country.

Both sides feel a fresh sense of urgency. Those who oppose

immigration reforms that would legitimize some of the estimated 12

million illegal immigrants in the United States say reform makes even

less sense now that the recession-racked US economy is losing jobs

and has a 10 percent unemployment rate. Those who favor a path to

legalization for illegal immigrants and a more open-door immigration

policy see the most opportune political climate in years, with a

Democrat-controlled White House and Congress.

For its part, the Obama administration appears to have begun laying

the groundwork - increasing border security and law enforcement -

to move soon on reform legislation.

But public positions on the issue have, if anything, become more

complicated since the 2007 debate on immigration reforms proposed by

President Bush.

"This issue is one that Americans have seen a lot more of -

moving from the national stage to state and local communities,"

says Pete Brodnitz, principal partner at Benenson Strategy Group, a

consulting firm that conducts its own polls.

"Americans have a more knowledgeable and nuanced opinion than they

did a few years ago," says Mr. Brodnitz. "They understand that

the issue is really complicated and not lending itself to easy

solutions." Benenson's most recent poll in June found that 86

percent of American voters given details of comprehensive reform want

Congress to pass a plan.

Other polls show a slightly less rosy picture. A Pew survey from

April found that the proportion of Americans who favor a path to

citizenship for illegal immigrants - if they pass background

checks, pay fines, and have jobs - has risen since 2007, up from 58

percent to 63 percent. But it also showed that partisan differences

have grown: Democratic support for reform has jumped from 62 to 73

percent, while Republican support for reform has fallen from 56

percent in 2007 to 50 percent in June.

In some states, conservative activists are mobilizing to try to stop

immigration reform before it gets going. On Nov. 14, more than 50

"Tea Party Against Amnesty and Illegal Immigration" rallies took

place across the country.

Granting amnesty will create competition for the millions already

out of work, says Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American

Immigration Reform, which has 250,000 members and is preparing to

barrage Congress with e-mails and phone calls. "Flooding the market

with more wage-suppressing labor is not the answer."

pagebreak

An issue rekindled

Four days after the antireform "tea parties," Hispanic

immigrants and their supporters jammed themselves around an oak table

at the Central American Resource Center in downtown Los Angeles,

paying rapt attention to a speaker phone.

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