Immigration activists wave American flags at a recent rally.
Immigration rights activists held a large rally Saturday at the Teamsters Local 705 hall in Chicago. Activists were calling on Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform, and hoped that with the health care bill passed, that immigration reform would be next on the Democrats agenda in Washington. The loud and raucous crowd had immigrants from all over the world including South America, Asian, Africa and Europe.
It seems that immigration will be the next big issue for Democrats. The rally was joined by Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate majority whip and the second most powerful senator in the country. While one speaker urged Congress to ignore "cynics like Rahm Emanual who say that now is not the time for immigration reform," it seems as though they may not have to as Emanual is now stating that he supports taking action on immigration reform sooner rather than later.
Supporters of immigrants have been upset at the slow pace that President Obama and Congress have been taking on immigration reform. Deportations continue to divide families and "many young women are forced into sexual trafficking every year because their immigration status is being used against them, many family members are forced into below minimum wage jobs because their immigration status is being used against them." According to Pat O'Connor, the President of Illinois Police Chiefs Association, which supports comprehensive reform.
Senator Dick Durbin speaks at a recent immigration rally.
Durbin, the son of Lithuanian immigrants, told the crowd that it was time people told the government to "stop dividing our families." He was was optimistic that Republican support could be found for immigration reform. He pointed to Republican Senator Richard Lugar from Indiana, who was the cosponsor of the DREAM Act with Durbin. The DREAM Act would allow undocumented youth without criminal convictions access to residency and college funding.
However, Senator John Kyl of Arizona has announced that Republican senators would filibuster immigration reform if it were brought to a debate in the Senate.
Many in the crowd expressed optimism that immigration reform could be passed within the year or even before May 1st, the anniversary of the largest immigration rallies in the country's history.
I think this is unrealistic. While an immigration reform bill would be good, I don't see how Democrats will be able to pass substantial reform in a short amount of time. Republicans fought tooth and nail against even the most moderate health care reform. Democrats ended up voting on a watered down health care bill that did not even include a public option for health insurance. Democrats essentially were forced into advocating for and passing a health care bill whose guts, mandating individuals to buy insurance from private for-profit insurance companies, were originally Republican policies.
Republicans can see the writing on the wall. Immigration reform would legalize likely Democrat voters who are already here and provide an avenue for future likely Democrat voters to enter the US. If blocking health care reform was to protect corporations that donate to Republicans, then blocking immigration reform will be about protecting republicans own electoral vitality.
What immigration activists need to be asking their congressmen is how watered down is immigration reform going to become? How many compromises will be made with the Republican minority and the dissident right-wing democrats in order to hustle the votes for reform that may not actually improve the plight of immigrants in America?