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A Past Year Of Despair, A New Season Of Enlightenment: Losing Some Battles Against Intolerance, But Winning The War Against Injustice

by Robert Gittelson

It was a year ago, this spring. I was feeling disillusioned about the failure of Comprehensive Immigration Reform to pass through Congress in 2006, and frustrated because I felt that the advocates for CIR were being outmaneuvered and out-organized by their Right Wing opponents. I determined that I had a point of view that needed to be voiced. More importantly, I felt that I was duty bound to make that voice heard.

I had a firm belief that while the idea of legalizing millions of illegal immigrants was a socially progressive concept, the ramifications of that action would offer societal and economic benefits that were, in many ways, decidedly conservative. Therefore, last spring, I framed my first article in such a way as to explain this novel concept to the masses, in the earnest hope that others would avail themselves of my arguments, and use them to persuade the opponents of CIR to see the light.

While I was encouraged by the letters of support and agreement that flowed in from readers after that first article was published, (A Crisis Of Perspective: Why The Right Is Wrong On Comprehensive Immigration Reform - ILW.COM 3/28/07), it was unsettling and disturbing that an equal number of readers dismissed me as an open-borders proponent of anarchy who should get out his Webster's dictionary and look up the word "illegal," since clearly their was something about that word that eluded me.

I guess that in my naiveté, I had delusions of grandeur, in which people would read my article and say, "Oh, that Gittelson guy makes sense. Maybe we should take another look at CIR." Oh contraire. While, in fact, Congress did take another whack at CIR in 2007, the "people" didn't exactly come around. In point of fact, instead of democratically and respectfully airing opinions such as mine, and discussing the case for CIR on it's merits, Congress chose to try to secretly ram their "bi-partisan grand compromise" down the throats of the American public. To say that our elected officials erred in their judgment as to how this plan would sit with the public at large, does disservice to the gravity of the word "error".

Not only did I see the opportunity for passage of CIR starting to slip away, I took extreme exception to the manner in which the debate turned rancorous and divisive. By June of last year, I recognized that the CIR Bill was mortally wounded, and sensed with both horror and outrage the negative turn toward racism and bigotry that the debate had taken. In an attempt to stem the tide of darkness and mistrust that I saw was derailing what should and could have been a civil debate on this issue, I took a different tack, and wrote the article "Anti-Latino Racism: The Equality Issue of Our Time, (ILW.COM - 6/20/07). While this article differed in both tone and content from my earlier article, it was written in an attempt to give pause to the avalanche of bitterness and hostility that ultimately caused the demise of CIR last July.

After getting up off the mat, dusting myself off, and reappraising the direction with which I would proceed on the perilous course of CIR advocacy, I decided to undertake a more pragmatic and measured course correction. Therefore, instead of "metaphorically" trying to get reader's to consume and digest my entire pizza in one sitting, so to speak, I decided to serve the entree by the slice. In other words, I broke down my original hypothesis that consisted of many ideas, and focused each article on a more detailed version of a particular issue.

I now feel that this "bit by bit' approach has found a more measurable success. Recently, responses to my articles are trending more and more to the positive. Oh, the nay Sayers are still out there, but we advocates are wearing them down, issue by issue. In progression, I wrote articles that dealt with the issues of assimilation, the dangerous economic ramifications of the "enforcement only" approach, the intolerance and misguided logic behind the deportation through attrition approach, the need for compassion, the international economic and political pitfalls of mass deportation, and finally, the logic behind an immediate but temporary solution to our immigration crisis.

While the silence out of Washington by the politicians that advocate for CIR has been deafening, the political momentum has slowly shifted in our favor. The political pendulum has swung back in the direction of reform. One doesn't have to look further then the list of remaining Presidential candidates left standing, to see that the public has spoken on this issue. They have clearly stated what the polls have told us from the beginning of this debate. People want a solution to this problem, and that solution includes some sort of path to legalization for the millions of law abiding and hard working undocumented immigrants that are already here.

In fact, you needn't take my word for that. If there is one thing that politicians can be counted on to do, it is to read polls and sense which direction that the political wind is blowing. Already, even the right wing has toned down their rhetoric against immigration reform and immigrants in general. More to the point, legislation is slowly making it's way through the House that proposes a 5 year visa for most of our nation's undocumented immigrants as a temporary measure until full reform can be passed. It is reported to have bi-partisan support.

As one would expect, the John Tanton founded network of anti-immigration propagandists, (NumbersUSA, F.A.I.R., and the Center for Immigration Studies to name 3 of at least 13), are gearing up for a fight. Numbers USA has once again issued an "Action Alert" to their members and readers of their website. They provide links and faxing services to members of Congress to make it seem that there is a groundswell of support against any immigration reform measure that the Tanton led puppet-masters deem dangerous to their xenophobic agenda. But as the saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." Well, the Tanton group has already fooled Congress twice, in 2006 and again in 2007. They are certain to try for the trifecta, and try to dupe the American public once again in 2008. I don't think that it will work. Oh sure, there will be quite a show in Washington, but the legislators will read the polls, see that the anti-immigration position has been losing at the ballot boxes across most of the country, and will vote to stay in office.

When I ponder our past losses, and reflect on some of the rhetoric that was generated by our Congressmen last summer, my mind always returns to a fine and energetic speech by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. While Graham has adhered to a primarily conservative line throughout his career, his approach toward Immigration Reform was grounded in realism and practicality. He stood up in opposition to Jeff Sessions on the floor of the Senate, and implored the mostly Republican opponents of Immigration Reform not to oppose CIR. He earnestly explained in detail that while that version of CIR didn't give him everything that he wanted in a CIR bill, it was going to be the Republicans last and best chance to get at least some of what they wanted. He warned his fellow Republicans that if they waited to act, the next version would have even more support, and would be less accommodating to the conservative agenda. I felt strongly then, and I feel even more certain now, that Senator Graham was exactly right.

It most certainly is not a coincidence that Senator Graham has appeared front and center on the stump with fellow Republican and Presidential frontrunner Senator John McCain, the co-sponsor of that last CIR bill. It will certainly be interesting to see how Senator McCain positions himself when and if the temporary 5-year visa bill comes to the Senate floor later this year. Greg Siskind, in his 2/7/08 blog, presents a sound and interesting political theory when he suggests that the Senate should go ahead and try now for the full CIR bill. He states that, "Bringing back immigration reform would have virtually no drawbacks now and could reap major rewards, both political (if McCain is seriously damaged or distracted) and substantive (if immigration reform actually passed)."

I would further argue that an additional reason for political expediency on this issue would be that it would not only be a social and economic benefit to our country to get this political football behind us, it would also clear the way for the next President to immediately get to work on the difficult issues of economic recovery and international stability. I feel that the Congress has kicked this can down the road far enough. The current political climate affords us the ideal nexus of motive and opportunity to get this done.

To take this full circle, in closing, I'd like to reference the final two sentences from that first article, "A Crisis of Perspective: Why the Right is Wrong of Immigration", "Bi-partisan politics is very much like the weather, everyone talks about it, but nobody does anything about it. Well, there's fair weather coming, and believe it or not, it's coming from the general direction of the right." Well, I'm no longer sure that the weather is coming from the right. The political wind certainly isn't blowing from that direction. I just hope that when is does come, it's not just a lot of hot air.

About The Author

Robert Gittelson has been a garment manufacturer in the Los Angeles area for over 25 years. His wife, Patricia Gittelson, is an immigration attorney with offices in Van Nuys and Oxnard, California. Robert also works closely with Patricia on the administrative side of her immigration practice. Throughout his career, Mr. Gittelson has developed practical, first hand experience in dealing with the immigration issues that are challenging our country today.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.