The political Reality of President Obama and the Struggle for Immigration Reform


Los Angeles 5 Oct 2009. The recent interview of Mauricio Cardenas, an ex Colombian Minister and now Director of the Brookings Institute for Latin America,  is a brief but incisive window into the political reality of President Obama. Cardenas comments on the fact that the present complexities of the domestic agenda have diminished the maneuvering space of the president and therefore maybe forcing him to make concessions on the international scene. The concessions are like jokers in a card game.

This sobering look into Obama’s evolving reality on the US and international arena could be applied to the political panorama of the immigrant rights struggle and the upcoming battles for immigration reform and the long awaited legalization for the millions of undocumented immigrants. As the cards unfold and further reveal what the progressive leadership is faced with, it is clear that the movement is not on the offensive and doesn’t have momentum. This is due to its lack of vision, inherent contradictions and divisions within its political class-its leaders. As former Mexican Congressman Jose J. Medina observed of the recent meeting on immigration in Tucson, "It was sad, everyone is looking for the unity of March 25, 2009". It can be added that mostly all at that gathering were left with the bad taste on their minds emanating from the proposal for undocumented immigrants to boycott the 2009 US Census of 2009, which does not stem from a united and broad national summit, as it should, nor does it have a strong theoretical or political rationale.

On the other side, regardless of the absurdities of its eclectic message, the right wing is attempting to move in unison. Reportedly financed with transnational corporate money, in particular the insurance industry, the support of many radio djs and media, websites, political strategists and the Republican Party, they recently moved tens of thousands to Washington D.C. Their stated goals are defeating health reform now, but at the same time, prepare for the ultimate  fight against legalization.

On another front, the government has been making its moves to co-opt the   immigrant rights organizations and its leaders. As of several months ago, reliable sources told of large sums of funds, in the millions, distributed to the moderate wing of the movement. According to Bay Area political analyst David Bacon, "The foundations gave $30 million to Reform Immigration for America, and another $8 million to Frank Sharry’s America’s Voice".

If so, it is a smart political strategy that does not differ from the "promotion of democracy" moves made by the State Department on Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and of course Honduras. The intentions are to further marginalize the most radical sectors, the street folks which in the last three years and nine months have moved millions of people unto the country’s political arena, but have been unable to crystallize a  national venue or national offices in the beltway.

Another round of street demonstrations are scheduled in the next few days in several cities around the country, including the capital, and I am hoping  there will be people though the indicators are not there. Notwithstanding the outcome of any of the moves being made, it is absolutely clear that the progressive wing of this struggle is looking at the national panorama and the lawmakers who will ultimately formulate the reform law, from afar.

The political paranoia and the personal or organizational agendas should be set aside to be able to trustfully convene a series of discussions and a national progressive immigration reform summit for early next year, with possibly a massive national march that will place a united movement back on the offensive. At the same time dwarf any moves by the right wing while putting Congress and the Obama administration on notice that progressives will have a say so on the content of the new reform law and the future empowerment of immigrants, the most vulnerable sector of the people.

*Javier Rodriguez is a media and political strategist and a journalist in Los Angeles. He was a leading member of C.A.S.A. 1971-78, Co-Founder National Coalition for Fair Immigration Laws and Practices 1972-78,  Co-Founder Coalition for Visas and Rights for the Undocumented 1982-90, Co-Founder and Director, California Latinos for Jesse Jackson 1984, Co-Founder March 25 Coalition 2006 and initiator of the 1.7 million mega march, co-founder of the May 1st National Movement 2007 and the Parlamento Migrante in Mexico City 2007.

*Brookings Institute Director Mauricio Cardenas was on Cubadebate and the interview was published in Granma Internacional on 5 Oct 2009.

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