FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Rahm Emanuel’s Political Pragmatism on Immigration

Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff signals that political pragmatism, not campaign promises to Latinos, may determine immigration policy in the new administration.

It’s not that Congressman Emanuel (D-IL) is a foe of immigration, but rather that he seems to have concluded that comprehensive immigration reform is not a winning political proposition for Democrats.

As Illinois congressional representative since 2003, Emanuel has repeatedly held the line against the immigration restrictionists and border security hardliners. For the restrictionists, he has a failing record.

During his first year in Congress, the Federation for American Immigration Reform gave Cong. Emanuel (D-IL) a 0% rating, with the number reflecting the percentage of time that Emanuel voted FAIR’s preferred position. Other restrictionist organizations that track congressional votes agree with FAIR’s assessment that Emanuel is irredeemably liberal when it comes to immigration reform.

NumbersUSA, the organization that spearheaded the grassroots mobilization against the Senate’s 2007 immigration reform bill, gives Emanuel a failing lifetime position. He flunked the NumbersUSA test, receiving an “F” on his “immigration-reduction report card.” U.S. Border Control—another restrictionist group—gave Cong. Emanuel an 8% rating, citing his “open-border stance.”

In other words, Emanuel, picked to exert control over Obama’s team and its policy agenda, is about as bad as you can get if fighting immigration is your central concern. He cosponsored the McCain-Kennedy reform proposal, voted “no” on building a border fence, and even cast a “no” vote on a bill that would require hospitals to notify immigration agents when treating illegal immigrants.

But immigration restrictionists aren’t particularly worried. That’s because Emanuel, after the drubbing that immigration reform received in mid-2007, let it be known that the Democratic leadership in Congress wouldn’t be pushing comprehensive reform in 2008—or anytime in the first term of the next administration.

Calling immigration the “third rail” of American politics, Emanuel began backing away from comprehensive reform in 2007, even as he continued to oppose overly restrictive immigration and border bills.

Emanuel has come under fire from Latino columnist Ruben Navarrette for keeping immigration reform off the table this year. “House Democrats, under orders from Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-IL, kept the controversial issue off the legislative agenda in 2008. Why? Organized labor. Democrats’ slavish adherence to unions required that they derail any proposal that includes guest workers, as any bill with a chance to win Republican support would have to do,” wrote Navarrette.

The San Diego Union-Tribune columnist also took the opportunity to criticize Sen. Obama for having “supported a series of ‘poison pill’ amendments intended to weaken guest-worker provisions and drive away Republicans. Obama even proposed one such amendment himself.” Navarrette’s opinion that it was really the Democrats, not the Republicans, that killed comprehensive reform in 2007 has been widely challenged but echoed by Sen. McCain in a Spanish-language ad during the presidential campaign.

Obama is against these programs for the most part as are not just unions but also progressive immigrants and immigrant-advocacy groups, who argue that they create an underclass of workers, eroding their civil and labor rights. More conservative Latino organizations and the Bush administration strongly support the concept, as do many Democratic congressional members. This is one of the main reasons Emanuel and others view immigration reform as so difficult.

At the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza, Juan Salgado, board chairman of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, shocked participants, stating: “Congressman Rahm Emanuel said to me two weeks ago, there is no way this legislation is happening in the Democratic House, in the Democratic Senate, in the Democratic presidency, in the first term.”

Emanuel’s office confirmed the congressman’s statement and his assessment of the political realities concerning immigration reform. Emanuel’s spokesman Nick Pappas told the Washington Times: “Congressman Emanuel has worked hard to make comprehensive reform a reality and that work continues. However, President Bush and congressional Republicans’ failure on this critical matter has set back efforts to enact real reform.”

In turn, Salgado said, “I was caught off-guard by the statement. I interpret his comments as a lack of courage on what they know is right. Listen, we’re here at the NCLR conference, and what it’s going to take is not the attitude of Rahm Emanuel. What it’s going to take is boldness by the president.”

On the night of his victory, President-elect Obama told Americans and the world that his electoral triumph demonstrated that “all things are possible” in America.

But comprehensive immigration reform is one of the things that just may not be possible given the rabid opposition of grassroots restrictionists, the still-sizable Republican opposition, the strength of “moderate” Democrats, and the lack of political will among liberal Democrats. Not during the campaign or in his short career in the Senate has comprehensive immigration reform been a priority for Obama, and it likely won’t be a priority as president, despite a July promise at the National Council of La Raza convention to tackle the issue.

“I think it’s time for a president who won’t walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform just because it becomes politically unpopular,” the then-presumptive party nominee said. “I will make it a top priority in my first year as the president of the United States of America.”

But with the nation facing rapidly rising unemployment, immigration reform may be pushed back deep into a second term.

On election night Obama warned supporters at Grant Park in Chicago that with the nation facing the challenge of two wars and an economic downturn, his decisions wouldn’t be popular with everyone. ” The road ahead will be long,” he said. “Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”

With respect to immigration, immigrant advocates are expressing hope that immigration reform will be possible and that the nation will get there soon—in the first term or even in the first year.

What’s particularly worrying, though, is that the stasis that now defines immigration policy may allow the enforcement-only regimen instituted so forcefully and thoroughly by the Bush administration and his homeland security department to remain the order not just for the next few months but for the next four years or more. Even worse, given that Obama has supported the building of the border fence and a strong employee verification policy, immigration enforcement may actually deepen.

In the absence of a bold initiative by the Obama team to stop the raids and assert its determination to “bring people out of the shadows,” as the Obama-Biden campaign promised, it’s possible that an “enforcement-only” immigration policy will continue to do its dirty work for some time to come.

What’s certain is that the road ahead for the pro-immigration camp and immigrant advocates will be long, and the climb to immigration reform very steep indeed.

TOM BARRY directs the TransBorder Project of the Americas Policy Program at the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC. He blogs at http://borderlinesblog.blogspot.com/.

 

More articles by:

Tom Barry directs the Transborder Program at the Center for International Policy and is a contributor to the Americas Program www.cipamericas.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 23, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Adolf Alzuphar
Tears / Ayizan Velekete
Stephen Cooper
General Jah Mikey: “I Just Love That Microphone, Man”
Louis Proyect
Slaves to the Clock
August 22, 2019
George Ochenski
Breaking the Web of Life
Kenneth Surin
Boris Johnson’s Brexit Helter Skelter
Enrique C. Ochoa – Gilda L. Ochoa
It’s About Time for Ethnic Studies in Our K-12 Schools
Steve Early
A GI Rebellion: When Soldiers Said No to War
Clark T. Scott
Sanders And Bezos’s Shared, Debilitating, Basic Premise
Dan Corjescu
The Metaphysics of Revolution
Mark Weisbrot
Who is to Blame for Argentina’s Economic Crisis?
Howard Lisnoff
To Protect and Serve
Cesar Chelala
A Palestinian/Israeli Experiment for Peace in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
No Deal Chaos: the Brexit Cliff Face and Operation Yellowhammer
Josue De Luna Navarro
For True Climate Justice, Abolish ICE and CBP
Dean Baker
The NYT’s Upside Down Economics on Germany and the Euro Zone
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail