Immigration reform in 2010: How we will make it happen

I just got back from a great panel discussion at the Center for American Progress (CAP) about getting immigration reform done in 2010. The discussion, which happened in front of a packed house at CAP, discussed the prospects for reform this year both from a political and a policy perspective.

The panelists were Nico Pitney, National Editor of Huffington Post; Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga , Founder and Editor of Daily Kos; María Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; and Andrea Nill, Immigration Blogger and Researcher, Think Progress.

While Representative Luis Gutierrez was slated to come, he got held up in a vote and was unable to make it. (I know, a lawmaker that is actually legislating - gasp!).

Faiz Shakir, Editor-in-Chief of Think Progress kicked things off, by introducing the panel and asking the first in a series of questions to help shape the discussion.

Each panelist had a unique perspective on why passing immigration reform in 2010 is possible.

Markos Moulitsas drove home the electoral politics of the issue, noting that unlike other issues (ie: health care), immigration reform was never going to be a straight partisan vote.

"If this was just about having 60 votes in the Senate, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

But Moulitsas noted that the issue has bi-partisan support, with members of the GOP that support and some Democrats who oppose.

The true key to why passing immigration reform is in legislators' best interest, however, is that there is a major voting consituency at stake: Latino and New American voters. He noted,

"The Latino vote has been the difference in many elections in the last several cycles. In order to be politically viable, both Democrats and Republicans will have to deliver on immigration reform, or face losing those constituencies".

Adding to the chorus of positives for tackling this issue in 2010, Maria Durazno noted that this time around (unlike 2007), the coalition working for immigration reform has the full backing of the labor movement. In response to the question: "How do we tackle this issue with so much of the nation's focus on jobs", she responded:

"Immigration reform IS about jobs. Immigrants are already essential workers in our economy."

Andrea Nill went on to note that passing immigration reform would not only create 700,00 jobs, but would also bring $1.5 trillion in additional Gross Domestic Product over the next 10 years.

Not only is this good policy, but its also popular policy. Both Moulitsas and Nill cited a recent poll from America's Voice that showed over 60% of Republicans, Democrats and Independents support a pathway to legalization. Moulitsas, however, noted that just because there is good policy and popular support does not mean passage of a bill - just look at the health care debate. He called for a fair debate, without the outrageous claims of socialism and death panels, and said that if the debate were only about policy and substance, immigration reform would be the clear winner against the opposition.

The panel noted that the media would play a large role in either keeping this debate focused on policy and sensible discourse, or feeding into the lies and misinformation that has dominated much of the health care debate. And Nill noted that nobody should be fooled by the rhetoric of the opposition:

"They frame themselves as only against "illegal" immigration, but if you check out their stances on a variety of issues, they oppose humanitarian provisions in current laws because they are actually against all immigration, period."

To help frame the debate in a way that keeps the focus on policy and politics of the fight, Moulitsas called on more progressives and progressive bloggers to join in the debate. And all of the panelists agreed that this issue should be a progressive priority.

In sum, the discussion shows that not only is immigration reform economically desirable and policy that is popular with the majority of the American public, but it is an issue that will determine the political viability of many candidates during a midterm election year.

Photo courtesy of @Ch3ryl

A special thanks to America's Voice, the Center for American Progress and Netroots Nation for pulling this event together!