By Gabriel Camacho

At the writing of this commentary, the Senate is on the verge of approving a final
“deal.” AFSC staff have been attentive to news reports and chatter from inside the
DC Beltway. What is clear is that the final Senate product will be much worse than
anticipated, especially for southern border communities, and immigrant workers. No
amount of positive amendments can improve the bill at this point. However the bill’s
provisions are not the focus of this week’s commentary.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bandwagon is in full gear traveling
from town to town, bringing messages of hope and deliverance. The band’s name
has changed over the years, but the band’s leaders have remained the same, as well
as the song.

If you are not marching to the band’s tune then you, your community, and
organization will miss out on the party. You certainly will not be invited to all
expenses paid photo ops with the Gang of 8 or at the White House. Mainstream
media will not ask for your ten-second sound bite.

Even worse, if you’re not with the program, your community and organization will be marginalized and ridiculed by the so-called experts and Washington DC insiders. Should CIR fail again, you, your community, and organization will be blamed. Foundations will look at your grant proposals as suspect.

As the AFSC moves forward to promote humane immigration policy alongside the
most affected communities across the country, the attempts to neutralize our efforts
have begun in earnest. In our call for just and humane policies, AFSC staff is
experiencing the backlash of mainstream advocacy organizations. Let’s take a closer
look at the arguments and messaging coming from advocates inside the Beltway
bubble.

There are several themes that we have heard:
1. “The perfect is the enemy of the good”
2. “The spirit of bipartisanship”
3. “Now is the Time”
4. “Immigrants just want papers”

1. “The perfect is the enemy of the good”
This argument is predicated on the assumption that any attempt to substantially
alter the architecture of the bill is untenable. In order for CIR to pass, it must
contain the 4 pillars of a) border militarization, b) interior “smart” enforcement,
c) expanded guest worker programs, and d) “a path” to legalization.
Furthermore, the four pillars are built upon the framework of the punitive Illegal
Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA).

Detractors of the AFSC and our partners argue that it is naïve to legislate truly
humane policies. “Real” reform becomes the politics of the possible or achievable
within the confines of partisan politics. It is acceptable to make improvements by
supporting or opposing various amendments, but the pillars must remain,
because, the argument goes, if you chip away at these core elements, too many
Members of Congress will walk away and the overall effort will fail. For example,
we supported an amendment to end solitary confinement of immigrant detainees,
yet the practice of mandatory detention remains intact.

2. “The spirit of bipartisanship”
This theme is predicated on the assumption of the “great American democracy.”
As part of the American exceptionalism myth, it has been said that the U.S.
Senate is the most deliberative body in history. Hence bipartisan posturing such
as the sequester plan and the Gang of 8 is big news, but there is little coverage
on policy substance or social consequences.

The theme is also used to stop progressive and inclusive policies that the AFSC
promotes. Many of our colleagues are being told “not to push too much,” or
“don’t upset the delicate balance,” and my favorite, “you’ll get them angry.”
These statements are meant to rebuke the AFSC and similarly minded groups
because we may upset the sensibilities of Congress and the Senate.

We hear “politics is the art of compromise” from Beltway advocates and the
media. What we are actually witnessing in the crafting of CIR legislation is the
art of capitulation to a system that denies the full humanity of millions of people.
The abdication of accountability in Washington DC to the human rights crisis
playing out in our communities constitutes impunity.

3. “Now is the Time”
This argument is similar to the bipartisan chorus, but it is meant to portray a
sense of immediacy. Therefore we must accept what is being offered now, and
perhaps improve the faults of the bill at some later date.

According to this discourse, we must spring into action with actions and
messaging determined by Beltway advocates who prioritize political expediency
over the complex needs of impacted communities. This is not the time for
bothersome questions that point out contradictions or provisions that go against
our values. Thus we are instructed to text “reform now” as if that were a
meaningful statement.

The CIR political pundits say that we finally have a “pro-immigration”
Administration, and that we must support the Senate efforts. Any criticism at
this point of the Administration or the Senate could endanger CIR efforts.

4. “Immigrants just want papers”
Perhaps the most patronizing and offensive argument is that immigrants would
accept any type of “legal” status. This argument originates from the stereotypes
of the privileged. These stereotypes assume immigrants just want “work
papers”, and are not interested in their community, current events, world politics,
or the arts.

This assumption makes it easy to formulate a category such as Registered
Provisional Immigrant (RPI). This newly created category would have RPI go
through 10 years of a precarious status that could be revoked upon certain
conditions.

The argument justifies how a person with RPI status will be left out of
“Obamacare” and other benefits. It also explains the dramatic expansion of
current guest worker programs as well as the creation of new temporary work
programs.

As long as we give “them” papers, we can continue to enact policies that treat
immigrants as less than human, as criminals, and as justifications for further
militarization of our borders, airports and workplaces.

Conclusion
In the last update, the CHIP team wrote a reflection on the current state of affairs in
our movement for just and humane immigration policy (“What’s Next for the
Movement?”. In that reflection, we concluded that we would continue to work
toward a society that respects the dignity of every immigrant and worker, despite
the outcome of immigration reform legislation.

The House is beginning to debate extremely harmful bills that offer far more border
militarization, criminalization, interior enforcement, detentions, deportations, racial
profiling, and workplace enforcement. This is the time when the humane and
inclusive policies supported by AFSC are needed. Our expansive promotion of these
policies could be the key to addressing the hateful circus in the House. Instead of
capitulation and expedience, justice and courage must guide our actions. Instead of
cheerleading for the Senate bill and regurgitating Beltway talking points, we must
continue to speak truth to power.

For decades, the AFSC has been working in partnership with immigrant communities from different localities working in many occupations. Our New Path principles and policy recommendations are rooted in the daily and historic realities of these communities. These are not utopian dreams but the collective wisdom, experiences and demands of these very communities.

They are worth fighting for.