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Weekly Diaspora: Obama to Congress: It's time to support immigration reform

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This morning, President Barack Obama condemned the ”failure by those of us in Washington to fix a broken immigration system” and called on Congress to support reform this year.

“This administration will not just kick the can down the road,” Obama said. He also described comprehensive immigration reform as “held hostage to political posturing.” The UpTake, Mother Jones and The Colorado Independent provided live coverage of Obama’s statements.

The White House is no doubt concerned about the electoral consequences. Latino voters are waiting to see if Democrats address the issue. Obama also met with policy groups and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House on Monday and Tuesday to discuss moving forward on immigration reform.

Catch-22

The possibility for comprehensive immigration reform this year is still unlikely, thanks to inaction by federal lawmakers. Not only have elected officials been preoccupied with other pressing issues, such as health care reform and Supreme Court hearings, they also fear political backlash from voters if they support immigration reform during a recession.

On the bumpy road to immigration reform, Congress has clearly fallen asleep at the wheel. Lawmakers may still support reform focused on young immigrants and farm workers this year, even if it doesn’t involve creating a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.

As Daisy Hernandez reports at ColorLines, “Obama acknowledged the political realities in Congress and talked with the group about smaller bits of immigration legislation, including a bill to permit undocumented young people to attend college,” according to attendees of the brainstorming sessions.

Hernandez explains that “Republicans are painfully aware, of course, that immigration might be this year’s election football.” During the lead up to the election this November, the Senate failed to come to a compromise or even sponsor an actual bill. The House of Representatives has sponsored a reform proposal, but won’t vote on it until the Senate takes action. It’s a sticky Catch-22.

No more Arizonas

Despite Congressional fumbling, the need for immigration reform certainly won’t go away any time soon. Latino voters are growing in influence every day in the Untied States. As Gabriel Arana reports for The American Prospect, “the anti-immigrant push has served to unify and mobilize Hispanic voters, leading them to rethink their ties to Republicans and demanding action from Democrats on immigration.”

Just last March, an estimated half a million reform supporters marched on the National Mall in Washington DC. Shortly after that, on May 1, tens of thousands marched in cities all over the country, with reform proponents participating in civil disobedience in the nation’s capital and Arizona.

Arana also notes that Latinos have had “historically had lower levels of political participation than other minority groups” in the political process, and now they are taking the reform cause to “the streets, to their representatives, and in the pages of Latino papers—on an issue that affects them directly.”

That means that Republicans in Florida—a state which has a Latino population of approximately 20 percent, according to the US Census—will likely face big hurdles in their attempt pass an Arizona-like law targeting undocumented immigrants and racially profiling Latinos. New America Media has been reporting on the Florida proposal, which, like Arizona, could lead to a major international backlash.

According to their coverage, the plan would “make remaining illegally in Florida a criminal offense,” would “include severe penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers,” and it would “allow police to ask suspects for proof of legal residency.”

‘Take Our Jobs’

On a lighter note, migrant workers have started a campaign to educate the public about the arduous work immigrants do on farms and in the fields—work that would be too tough for most Americans.

As Bonnie Azab Powell at Grist reports, the United Farm Workers, “tired of being vilified as stealing jobs from unemployed American citizens” have come up with a new campaign to put everyone to work.

“The union has created a website where you can sign yourself up for fieldwork,” Powell writes. “Experienced field hands will train legal residents and hook them up with the many seasonal harvest openings in California, Florida, and elsewhere.”

But the work won’t be easy, or just. As the article notes, “federal overtime provisions don’t apply to farmworkers, nor do minimum-wage laws.”

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.

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