David Coates

The Invisible Immigration Rally

(written with Peter Siavelis)

Did anyone even notice? Last Sunday’s massive immigration rally was supposed to push political leaders towards comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately it was largely overshadowed by the final vote on healthcare reform. Hunt for coverage of the rally in the national press and you will find it, but you will have to hunt.

Yet Sunday’s vote on healthcare could still be of genuine benefit to immigration reform. The victory on Sunday evening showed that the president and congress are able to legislate – that tough votes can be fought for and won. And once the real benefits of the healthcare overhaul sink in, much of Obama’s political capital may yet be restored to him. If Sunday morning is any guide, he will need that capital: the ugly slurs hurled by Tea Party protesters at black lawmakers and the openly homosexual Congressman Barney Frank likely presage more ugliness as the debate on immigration reform moves forward. Yet most Americans, including a number of leading Republicans, remain strongly in favor of reform; and the case for it is compelling even in the depth of this recession.

  • For rising unemployment has turned off the flow of undocumented workers. Fewer people are coming because there are fewer jobs to be had. The recession is exactly the right time to act, not the time to pause: time to act before the flow begins again.
  • The results of present policy are perverse. They are adding to the number of the undocumented rather than bringing that number down. Walls trap people in as well as keep them out. People stay because tighter border patrols and the building of the wall make departure difficult – not simply re-entry more expensive. It is time to say to the Republican base, in language they think they own, that we need to tear down this wall.
  • There is no evidence that unemployment is lower among undocumented workers than among those legally here. The reverse is likely the case, given the heavy concentration of such workers in the three industries hit hardest by the recession – construction, hospitality & leisure, and agriculture. The presence of undocumented workers actually hides the true degree of hardship being created by the financial meltdown. Recessions are not solved by shipping them overseas. We need more jobs, not fewer workers.
  • Nor is there evidence of any large-scale increase in the desire of unemployed native-born Americans to re-colonize the grunt jobs at the bottom of the economy largely filled before the recession by undocumented workers. There is evidence, however, of diminishing support for half-hearted progressive politics in Washington. Native-born Americans hostile to immigration reform are already lost to the Republicans: so in 2010, as is 2008, the counterweight of the Latino vote will be critical. Democratic politicians need to be reminded that immediate comprehensive immigration reform is in their self-interest as well as in their platform.

The Obama administration has so far presided over only the ‘bad cop’ side of immigration reform: deporting 387,000 people since coming into office. If they want a strong Latino vote in November, they need to move quickly to play the ‘good cop’ too.

Last week Senators Schumer and Graham gave them their chance: a bi-partisan blueprint for reform combining a path to legal status for undocumented residents with new provisions for border and workplace enforcement. Though as imperfect as Sunday’s healthcare legislation, the bill provides a basic architecture of reform that, as with healthcare, can be improved later. With a similar bill waiting in the House, the time to act is now.

The immigration rally may have been as invisible as our 11 million undocumented neighbors. The issue of immigration reform, however, is not. As the tumult of the healthcare debate subsides, it is Obama’s and the Democrats’ next major challenge, one they should embrace with as much zeal as they did in moving healthcare reform forward.


This argument is developed more fully in David Coates and Peter Siavelis (editors), Getting Immigration Right: What Every American Needs to Know (Potomac Books, 2009) and David Coates, Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments (Continuum Books, 2010).

Details of the latter are at http://answeringbackdavidcoates.blogspot.com

David Coates holds the Worrell chair in Anglo-American Studies and Peter Siavelis directs the Latin American Studies Program at Wake Forest University. They write here in a personal capacity

David Coates holds the Worrell Chair in Anglo-American Studies at Wake Forest University. He is the author of Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments, New York: Continuum Books, 2010.

He writes here in a personal capacity.

One Response to “The Invisible Immigration Rally”

  1. Brittanicus says:

    No amnesty, No Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR). They keep repeating the–SAME TIRED NUMBER–but the US border Patrol in just the Tuscon sector, expressed, “Only one out of ten is caught.” The Tucson sector Border Patrol union local 2544 on the number of illegal aliens in our nation: “There are currently 15 to 20 million illegal aliens in this country by many estimates, but the real numbers could be much higher and the numbers increase every day because our borders are not secure (NO MATTER WHAT THE POLITICIANS TELL YOU-DON’T BELIEVE THEM FOR ONE SECOND) Said a Spokesman for the Border Patrol. “Our illegal immigration numbers are based on an estimated twenty million illegal aliens having been present in our nation as of -JANUARY 1, 2004.”almost four million people crossed our borders illegally 2002″ end of quote. Other experts on the subject agree that illegal crossings have only increased since then.

    Americans cannot afford 10 million more families. Foreign nationals are very knowledgeable at cheating the IRS and the US taxpayer. They can even get child credits for their children, either not in America or in some other country. Once those here receive appropriate green cards they can then sponsor immediate family member, including people with infirmities as long as they are financial sponsored. But this is a joke, because once here the law–IS NOT ENFORCED. They then become public charges. They can collect Supplementary Security income (SSI) and other benefits. The number can never be truly calculated? Even the US Census will be off the mark, because hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions will stay silent. Now the number of illegal immigrants who have no intention of renewing their entry visa, or have slipped past the Border Patrol (Canada and Mexico, South American countries and islands) must be deported.

    We need professional and highly skilled workers, but not desperate uneducated, non-or semi-skilled. We have millions of Americans and legal residents in that category. Guest workers for farms and agriculture, but they must stay in that job until their visa expires. No options!.Then go home?

    The true estimate of foreign nationals in America is somewhere between 20 and 30 million? If AMNESTY is forced through the numbers will skyrocket, as countless numbers will be ready to bridge the border, just before President Obama signs the new reform. (with the wife and kids this would amount to 40-50 million people) on welfare, in subsidized housing, food stamps, WIC, more teachers, covered by Medicaid and other payments. They will not be paying any taxes because of the EIC and Child Tax credits will reimburse them. The IRS does not follow up on this type of fraud? This is a cruel trick on every honest taxpayer is this first generation of newly legalized immigrants, could escalate with thousands bring in brothers, sisters, Mothers and Fathers. By the year 2040 the population of America could be unsustainable with limited resources, water shortages, highways crammed to capacity and a infrastructure that is falling apart.

    THOSE INTERESTED-THE HISTORY CHANNEL IS ONCE AGAIN TELEVISING “The Crumbling of America.” This Friday observe the depreciating bridges, dams, levees and 50 year old underground system of sewage in some areas. Our Survival is in peril, but they do not enforce immigration laws. In fact Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has cut the budget for the Border Patrol and other enforcement tools in the SAVE ACT and REAL ID Act. Yet the Congress keeps appropriating money to fight foreign wars or aid other countries. There is much more to learn-not- the propaganda given to us by the business world Learn so much more by surfing the Internet or go to NUMBERSUSA. Read about the corruption from both political parties at JUDICIAL WATCH. Don’t hesitate in calling your Senator or Representative at 202-224-3121 In addition Don’t forget to give your State assembly a piece of your mind.

    Not copyrighted. TELL THE PEOPLE YOU KNOW–NO AMNESTY! It will entice Millions more to come for free government entitlements.

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