Weekly Diaspora: The Game Plan for Immigration Reform

By Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), started a hubbub among comprehensive immigration reform advocates last week when he expressed to members of the Capitol press corps that  progressive immigration legislation was “dead” for 2010 due to the contentious passage of health care reform. But the battle isn’t over yet. In an interview with Sandip Roy at New America Media, Frank Sharry, the executive director of DC-based immigration organization America’s Voice, says, “I think we have a good chance of seeing a bipartisan bill being introduced in April.”

Graham’s declaration mirrors similar antics that happened around the health care debate—where insurance reform was pronounced dead countless times by a wide array of pundits and lawmakers.  In fact, Seth Freed Wessler of ColorLines reports that Graham, who has been working with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on an immigration reform bill for a year later changed his tune, stating that he would continue to craft a bipartisan bill.

The Battle in the Senate

Gabriel Arana with The America Prospect questions just how the GOP lawmakers will react to the upcoming immigration debate, arguing that, “Even for those Republicans who are willing to publicly support immigration reform, partisan rancor all but ensures it won’t go anywhere.”

And outside the Capitol? As Laura Flanders of GRITtv points out, the immigration debate, “has the potential to be far, far messier—and more violent—than the health care battle,” and will likely galvanize those with xenophobic tendencies on the far Right to become even more unhinged.

On top of that, providing a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States will most likely be dead in 2010 if a bill isn’t proposed in the Senate this Spring. There needs to be time to debate the issue before the end of the year, and more importantly, before election season kicks off in the Fall. While there’s already an immigration bill in the House of Representatives, a timeline for when one will actually be introduced in the Senate is unknown.

Immigration agents go rogue

Combined with the uphill battle for immigration reform, AlterNet reports on a government memo revealing that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has set quotas to initiate more deportations of undocumented immigrants, targeting those who had committed no crimes. The memo was in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s stated goal to focus on deporting criminal offenders with violent histories, and prompted immigration rights groups to question the White House agenda.

At the same time, anti-immigration activists are also trying to label all immigrants as criminals. As the Colorado Independent documents, the shooting death of an Arizona rancher near the Mexican border has influenced former Colorado lawmaker Tom Tancredo and his followers to demand that the National Guard be sent the border—even though the death has not even been tied to an undocumented immigrant at this time. (The Department doesn’t have jurisdiction over the National Guard to begin with.)

The Inter Press Service also reports on the  results of such criminalization, as human rights abuses in immigration detention continue to increase each day. “More abuses in the U.S. immigration detention system came to light last week,” notes the media outlet, writing that “It was revealed that two mentally disabled men continue to be held in detention while facing possible deportation for criminal assault convictions, despite having already served their time.” The inmates were later released after the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed legal petitions against federal government.

For more links on immigration check out:

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Enough With Harold Ford

Look, we've already got plenty of annoying 2010 news. Why are we being subjected to Harold Ford's kabuki flirtation with running?

The New York Times says Schumer and Reid want him to drop it, Bloomberg's indifferent, and while Sharpton appeared "open" to a run, he's already endorsed someone else.

Ford would run to the right of Gillibrand on practically everything, and he's only been registered to vote in New York since November.

Can we move on (dot org)? Please?

Don't punt the public option debate to the states

Senate Democrats have not given up on passing health care reform through normal procedures requiring at least 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. The problem is, several conservative Senate Democrats are on record opposing a public health insurance option. Meanwhile, a bill with no public option will have trouble passing the House of Representatives, where the overwhelming majority of the Democratic caucus supports a robust public option tied to Medicare rates.

The obvious political solution is to include some watered-down public option in the bill, giving cover to Progressive Democrats who insist on a public option while placating House Blue Dogs and Senate conservatives who want to protect private insurers' market share.

The "triggered" public option favored by many industry allies didn't fly, because most Democrats understand that the trigger would never be pulled. This past week, a new possible compromise emerged:

It was pulled out of an alternative idea, put forth by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and, prior to him, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, to give states the power to determine whether they want to implement a public insurance option.

But instead of starting with no national public option and giving state governments the right to develop their own, the newest compromise approaches the issue from the opposite direction: beginning with a national public option and giving state governments the right not to have one.

Chuck Schumer of New York confirmed that Senate Democrats are giving serious consideration to the opt-out idea. Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin sounds open to the compromise. Former Governor Howard Dean, who has been railing against "fake" public options all year, told the Huffington Post he might support this compromise.

"If I were a member of the U.S Senate I wouldn't vote for the [Senate Finance Committee] bill but I would vote for this [opt-out plan]," Dean said, "not because it is necessarily the right thing to do but because it gets us to a better conversation about what we need to do. [...] if this passes I won't say it is not reform because it is reform. If this is what it takes to get 60 votes I say go for it."

Supporters of this compromise assume that very few states would opt out, because the public health insurance option is so popular. Alternatively, some people argue that even if a lot of red states opt out, blue states will reap economic benefits, while Republican politicians at the state and federal level are put in an awkward position.

There's no question that enacting some kind of nationwide public health insurance plan with an "opt-out" would give far more Americans access to the plan than Carper's "opt-in" proposal.

However, my concern is that quite a lot of states might ditch the public health insurance plan. Corporate interests have at least as much influence over state legislatures as they do over Congress--perhaps more. The public option would particularly benefit residents of states with little to no competition in the private health insurance market. But Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01) seems on target in warning that states with "strong political influence from one or two major health insurance companies" would be most likely to opt out, leaving "consumers in those states without a meaningful choice."

Daily Kos user eugene argues here, "Not only is this a bad idea because of the policy and political costs of throwing 'red states' overboard, it dramatically understates the very real risks that even so-called 'blue states' would choose the opt-out." Click through to read his case.

This Huffington Post piece points out another reason to be wary:

"One problem with the opt-out idea is that Republicans may seize on it in the future and turn it into a general opt-out for states to exempt themselves from the whole bill," said Paul Starr, health care expert at Princeton University. "Remember there will be four years and two elections before the reforms go into effect. This would be the easiest step for Republicans take during that period to ensure that the whole thing would unravel. And it would unravel because states that adopted the reform would become magnets for migration by the sick from states that opted out."

Punting the public option choice to the states might squeeze a few extra votes out of the Senate, but at what cost? Passing a more comprehensive bill with just 51 votes in the Senate, using the budget reconciliation process, seems more promising than obtaining 60 votes for an opt-out.

In related news, Senator Chris Dodd promised yesterday to "fight for a strong public option" when he works with Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus to merge the bills passed by the HELP and Finance committees. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and 29 other Senate Democrats sent Reid a letter this week supporting a public option "available continuously in all parts of the country."

There's more...

Schumer, Like Obama, Looks Open to Reconciliation

Two weeks ago, during a conference call with progressive bloggers, President Barack Obama indicated that he was open to using the reconciliation process in the Senate, which would lower the vote threshold from 60 to 50, in the event that comity could not be reached with the Republicans by this fall. Apparently the number three Democrat in the Senate doesn't sound too different:

Baucus has until Sept. 15 to reach an agreement with Republicans -- and that is still the goal.

"But if we don't, it is not going to stop us from moving forward with health care," Schumer told reporters Monday. "If the Republicans are not able to produce an agreement (by then), we will have contingencies in place. Health reform is just too important to let this window pass by."

Among the options is invoking a procedural maneuver known as reconciliation, which would allow Senate Democrats to pass a bill with a simple majority rather than a 60-vote filibuster-proof threshold.

Schumer would not say what other contingency plans he had in mind.

Reconciliation isn't a perfect answer for the Democrats, as it is not clear that they could accomplish all necessary aspects of a universal healthcare bill through the process -- and even if they came close such a package would have to be renewed in just five years. Yet at the same time, reconciliation is an important trump card for the leadership and the White House to hold to send the message to Republicans that if they attempt to filibuster they could be left with an even more progressive bill in the end. So while no one hopes that it comes to reconciliation, it is nevertheless a positive development for those hoping to see serious health insurance reform during this Congress that both the President and the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill are apparently reserving their options.

There's more...

The Chuck And Harry Show

As John points out, Chuck Schumer's been on a tear lately, voicing strong support for a public option:

"This is where we are going to end up," he said of a health care overhaul that included a public plan. "And I think, it would be much better for the Senate Finance Committee if we did it in the committee... I think the Senate HELP committee compromised already, because you have a lot of members on the HELP committee who would've liked [the public option] to be much closer to Medicare. The idea seems to be catching everybody's imagination, and sense of fairness. And the only holdouts are sort of ideologues on the Republican side of this saying no government involvement whatsoever."

But he's not freelancing. Schumer and Reid are close partners in leadership -  their 'loud cop/quiet cop' division of labor is strategic:

With Obama very much the public face of the Democratic Party, Reid allows his much more loquacious top lieutenants, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Charles E. Schumer of New York, to take more public responsibility for party message delivery and partisan jousting in the Senate while he concentrates on the behind-the-scenes role of wooing colleagues -- the job he excelled at in his six years as whip before becoming floor leader.

Whipping Senators isn't easy - they can't be pushed around like Reps in the House. But the division of labor strategy suits Reid and Schumer well. Schumer doesn't always speak for Senate leadership, but I'd bet he does on health care.

There's more...

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