Written by: Tony Weigel, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

What it “is” is becoming more clear. We pro-immigration advocates have a lot of work to do.

Our country has had an ongoing policy war over immigration since its inception. This history includes both positive and negative periods, each influenced by the day’s politics, economics, and the varying attitudes this “nation of immigrants” has harbored towards its more recent immigrants.

For some, the current debate is helplessly and hopelessly fixated at the border. Candidates for public office talk of “front door” and “back door” immigration policies without acknowledging they are both attached to the same “house.” Our country has failed to fundamentally address the immigration needs of our economy, yet many of our leaders have embraced the flawed logic that walling ourselves in from the world and adopting and vigorously enforcing draconian laws at the federal and state levels will end unauthorized immigration. These efforts have not only failed to spur federal legislative action, they have paralyzed those with the legitimate responsibility and ability from acting. For example, since 2007, Congress has twice failed to pass the DREAM Act by only a handful of votes.

Among those seeking our country’s highest office in 2012, there is little serious discussion about reasonable immigration policy solutions. The current administration has failed to affect significant, positive reforms, legislatively or administratively, has steadfastly advanced programs like Secure Communities and indiscriminately ramped up enforcement. Republican contenders have failed to effectively defend or advance positive solutions. In the words of former political strategist for George W. Bush and ABC News political consultant, Matthew Dowd, “You can’t have a thoughtful conversation about it in the Republican Party right now. You’re either [former U.S. Rep. and anti-immigration advocate] Tom Tancredo, or you’re for sanctuary cities.” The failure of Republican debate participants to speak out against a proposed policy of electrocuting human beings reflects that tragic, political reality.

We as AILA members are all participants in the current chapter of our country’s immigration history. The good news is that we have several shining examples of the kinds of work that can and should be done to change the storyline.

  • AILA leader Laura Lichter recently served on a prominent, ICE Advisory Task force.
  • DC-area member Paromita Shah, Associate Director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, has been engaged at a high-level in opposing Secure Communities.
  • A group of 13 members: Debbie Smith, Vikram Badrinath, Stephen Manning, Russell Abrutyn, Cynthia Aziz, Aaron Tarin, Kimberly Herrera, Rebecca Sharpless, Farrin Anello, Socheat Chea, Eli Echols, Mark Barr, and Andres Benach, have worked tirelessly on amicus briefs in opposition to state laws in Arizona, Utah, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.
  • 135 AILA members in 31 states have volunteered to represent young adults through the AD2 program.  A group of 9 senior AILA members, organized by Mo Goldman, serve as mentors to the group.
  • Iowa member Lori Chesser has served as a leader in the Iowa Immigration Education Coalition, which has brought together a broad coalition in support of positive immigration policies.

The opportunities to make a difference are out there and the resources to help write the rest of the present chapter are at our fingertips. AILA offers a variety of great tools to advocate for better policies. Additionally, the Immigration Policy Center develops and maintains a wealth of information and critical analyses of the misinformation driving today’s bad policy decisions. Changing the tone and tenor of today’s debate requires reaching out to our communities, making meaningful connections, and helping educate those in the media and others about facts to counter the tide of fear.

We all have things we must do to pay the bills, but it simply makes me sick to read stories like those coming from Alabama, and it incenses me to hear the top leaders of a major political party recklessly use the bigoted words “illegals” and “anchor babies.” The time to act is now.

Please do.