Immigration Advocacy Experts Share Optimism at AJC Summit

Immigration Advocacy Experts Share Optimism at AJC Summit

June 6, 2011 – Washington, DC – The battle for immigration reform continues to be a tough one, advocates said today, though several panelists saw some light in the dark tunnel.

The session at the AJC-hosted national summit on immigration focused on Immigration Reform Policy: What’s an Advocate to Do? It featured Robert Gittelson, co-founder of Conservatives for Immigration Reform; Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA; Angela Kelley, vice president of immigration policy and advocacy for the Center for American Progress; and Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. Richard Foltin, AJC’s director of national and legislative affairs, moderated the session.

Panelists called for coalition-building and a concerted bipartisan push for reform. They also criticized President Obama for not putting more effort into immigration reform.

“This was an unjust issue and he had the opportunity to do more than he did,” Gittelson said.

“We need to have broad and deep benches of stakeholders who will care about this issue and drive it,” said Kelley. “We need to make politicians afraid of us. To get their votes [on immigration], we need to make them afraid.”

She also called for flexibility, saying that just because a particular bill is not ideal, that doesn’t mean the immigration reform community should not support it.

Jacoby urged advocates to “play defense.” Make sure, she said, that the situation doesn’t get any worse. “Keep the notion alive that we need a legal way for workers to come to this country,” she said.

“The notion that we don’t need a legal way to bring immigrant workers here is the most dangerous argument that we’re facing now,” said Jacoby, who also stressed the importance of preparing for a time when the economy improves and more workers will be needed.

“We’re a long way from our goal and facing big obstacles,” said Jacoby. “Republicans are not going to give Democrats a victory on this before 2012. Republicans are not going to vote for anything you can dress up as legalization before 2012.”

No bill will pass without Republicans onboard, she said. “We have to get them to think they have to be part of the solution, to get them to understand that the system is broken and people expect the government to fix it, that we’ll need workers in the future and that the Republicans need the Latino vote,” said Jacoby.

Gittelson and Noorani both said the situation isn’t all grim. Gittelson pointed out that more and more Republicans, as well as evangelical Christians, are recognizing the need for change.

“We have been able to bring along people we would not have expected to advocate for this issue,” said Gittelson, whose organization represents a group of conservative business, political and faith leaders, including evangelicals and Southern Baptists — people, he said, who recognize that such things as a mandated E-Verify, a voluntary federal system that allows employers to check employee immigration status, would have a negative effect on the business community.

In California, he said, roughly 50 percent of those working for manufacturers are undocumented workers. If a mandated E-Verify program were to force a company to get rid of those workers, it would not open up jobs for American citizens, but lead companies to send those jobs overseas immediately. “It would take 20 minutes,” he said.

For his part, Noorani pointed to three states to show that the tide can turn on immigration – Florida, Texas and Maryland.

In Florida, he said, three forces aligned to defeat what Noorani termed, “in essence, Arizona-like legislation.” Those forces were the immigration rights community, which “pushed back relentlessly”; the business community, which lobbied behind the scenes and in front of the microphones, saying this is not good for the state; and the Latino community, which played “hardball politics,” paying for Spanish-language ads that targeted the sponsoring Latino legislator, saying, “Why are you doing this to our community?”

In Texas, Noorani said, it was the immigrant rights, law enforcement and business communities that came together to fight anti-immigrant legislation, while in Maryland, the legislature passed a bill that allows undocumented children to receive in-state tuition at state colleges, thanks to what he called “hardball Latino voter politics.”

The three-day summit, June 5-7, part of AJC’s Bridging America Project, which trains and mobilizes leaders in strategic communities across the country — drew some 120 business leaders, labor union activists, government, law enforcement, health care officials and faith leaders.

The summit was co-sponsored by the National Immigration Forum, Immigration Works USA, and Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and funded by a generous grant from the Ford Foundation.

AJC has long supported fair and humane immigration policies out of our commitment to a democratic, just and pluralistic America that is secure and strong. The Jewish historical experience and understanding of the value of every human being underpins these positions. AJC's dedication to support and protect Jews leads us to build strong interreligious and intergroup relations, and support civil and human rights for all.Date: 6/7/2011 12:00:00 AM
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