Despite the kind of grandiose title, I don’t hold any pretensions that I speak for the large and diverse immigrant rights movement. It has been an honor and a joy, though, to be back in the struggle for justice for immigrants in a more sustained way than over the past four years, since I left my work at El Centro, Inc., and I am very glad to have been a part of some of the fights over this past year.
And, now, with state legislative sessions wrapping up around the country, the task for our immigrant rights coalitions here in Kansas and, from what I observe, for many around the country, is to pivot from the very important work in state legislatures to the arena of greatest challenge and also greatest promise: Congress.
Only Congressional action can address the broken laws that create so much of the chaos and crisis observed by frustrated citizens and elected officials within the states, and lived daily by immigrants and their families in communities in every state. In fact, if Congress really wanted to, they could use trade and economic aid policies to even address some of the root causes of our broken immigration system by working international levers that affect “push factors” in countries of origin.
But, especially in this Congress, that’s going to take a huge advocacy lift, and, especially after the failures in the last (decidedly more sympathetic) Congress, that’s a tall order. It’s one felt, I imagine, by every immigrant and ally, and certainly one that weighs on me when I conduct trainings on immigration policy and immigrant rights within immigrant communities.
If we approach the challenges that await us as though we’re starting from scratch, or even picking up where we left off in December 2010 when the DREAM Act failed in the Senate, well…that’s enough to make me want to head back to the sandbox full-time.
But if we can leverage the lessons learned and the capacity built in dozens of state legislative battles over the past six months, we are much better positioned to pull off some real victories. Translating local and state activity to the national stage isn’t easy; coalitions often break down, communication between field and D.C. can suffer, and the intensification of power and prestige within the halls of Congress can intimidate even the most seasoned state activist. But it must be done, if we want to avoid reliving this session over and over again (please!), and if we want a real chance at real solutions, the kind only Congress can deliver.
What about you? What are your goals for the national stage, as state legislatures prepare to come home? How are you working with your grassroots leaders to translate their skills and knowledge to battles in Congress? What do we need to do, and know, to win in both arenas? And how can we build on what we’ve lived this session to make changes nationally?