Timing is Everything: Obama, Immigration, and Strategy

In: immigrants|latinos|LGBT|organizing|politics

17 Oct 2012

“Tactics mean doing what you can with what you have.”
Saul Alinsky

Let me very clear, Barack has absolutely, incontrovertibly been horrible on immigration with the exception of a few executive orders that theoretically make ICE deprioritize certain non-dangerous or young immigrants. The immigrant activist community should certainly hold his feet to the fire.

But I’m NOT certain it’s the BEST strategy for community activists, lawyers, and other leaders to do it now, just before the election. All that is going to happen is that immigrants, especially Latinos, will be disillusioned even more than they are now and will just stay home on November 6th. That means you make it more likely that you will get the other guy. I’m not going to endorse anyone, but my question is: If you do get the other guy, what exactly does the immigrant community gain by that?

Dan Savage made a very good point the other day when he said that the immigrant rights community has not been able to unify their message–unlike the gay community which has solidly unified on an agenda that includes the repeal of DADT (victory) and getting the President to re-volve on Gay Marriage publicly (victory). I personally have never worked on Barack’s campaign despite having several friends who are extremely close to the Obamas–why? because of his immigration stance in the Senate. I did, however, vote for him. But that was my personal decision.

The question I am asking now is: does it make strategic sense for the immigrant activist community to vilify him and his record RIGHT NOW versus waiting until after the election in order to unify and focus their power to push him like LGBT community has done. Again, if you get the other guy what exactly do you win?


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4 Responses to Timing is Everything: Obama, Immigration, and Strategy


Rad Geek

October 25th, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Again, if you get the other guy what exactly do you win?

I don’t know. But we did already get this guy, and what we “won” was (1) a string of broken promises, (2) no policy advances at all, and (3) a President who has administered what is quantitatively the worst administration ever for immigrants in the history of the United States of America. It seems to me that this is a good reason to conclude that voting to (re-)elect this guy, instead of the other guy, is not a reliable means for achieving pro-immigrant policy goals.

And it also seems likely to me that if the immigrant activist community continues putting out the message that we will reliably tamp down criticism whenever and wherever it might possibly affect the (re-)electoral prospects of Democratic politicians, no matter what they actually do in office, then that is sure to guarantee a situation in which Democratic politicians have no reason at all to care what we think. If we cannot criticize political figures when the criticism might possibly have some effect on political outcomes, then when can we criticize them? And what incentive do they have to care even a little bit about what we have to say, if we decline to say it when it might make a difference for their electoral prospects? We’ve tried this strategy for years, and it seems to have gotten us exactly what we have — nominally pro-immigrant politicians who in fact treat our community like a captive constituency, who routinely promise reform and play off fear of “the other guy,” while delivering policy records that are substantively just as bad, or even worse, than the results delivered by overtly Right-wing administrations. (I don’t just mean Obama, either. Operation Gatekeeper, for example, was Bill Clinton’s project.)



October 26th, 2012 at 3:55 am

“It seems to me that this is a good reason to conclude that voting to (re-)elect this guy, instead of the other guy, is not a reliable means for achieving pro-immigrant policy goals.”

So what are the reliable means, and what plan would you suggest when we get Romney? My point is not Obama per se, it’s about where we do have strength to leverage, i.e. where our base actually exists. I agree that we let ourselves get pushed around, but throwing one’s hand’s in the air and saying “oh well,” I just won’t vote for either is a neat way of absolving oneself of leading said “reliable means.” Saying “I don’t know, but this guys sucks” is not quite a strategy.

I appreciate your comment nad get what you are saying. But again, I am most interested in strategy. You don’t need to convince me about the bad policies. I stipulated that at the beginning.


Rad Geek

October 26th, 2012 at 4:52 am

Thanks for the reply! I know these are hard questions and I appreciate the conversation.

So what are the reliable means,

I freely admit I don’t know this for sure or in any detail. But I don’t think any of us do. The existing strategies obviously aren’t working (look at what they’ve gotten us) and I think we need to recognize that whether or not we have a good way to fix it. I agree that’s not quite a strategy, but I don’t think there’s much benefit to signing on for futile or counterproductive strategies, just because they are strategies.

But what I’d tentatively suggest is that any serious change on this issue probably has to come about by pushing hard to change the conversation and broader culture around immigration, putting social pressure on candidates regardless of their party and regardless of promises they make, and providing moral and social support, and where possible material aid, to currently undocumented immigrants. I think these are things we can all “lead” on with or without endorsing or voting for any particular candidate. If you want to vote or endorse that’s your business as far as I can see but my point is the most important changes that have to happen are changes in the social landscape that politicians face, which are continuous ongoing changes that are linked to continuous protest, education, criticism, activism, etc. not limited to election cycles. Nor limited to voters which I think is important since of course the people most affected by this political debate are legally excluded from voting for anybody. And that if we lead in making those changes then politicians will have to follow regardless of how elections go.So I think we have to see our base and our leverage in the community, not in the electorate or in the DNC. But I think the ability to do all this is seriously compromised if we stop doing them or talking about them every 2-4 years to make elections easier for politicians like Obama.

and what plan would you suggest when we get Romney?

Well just to be clear what I was saying was not “This guy is the worst, therefore we should try to get Romney elected instead.” If we get Romney, then my suggestion is the same as my suggestion for if we get Obama again: social movements to put pressure on government, call out and stigmatize anti-immigrant bigotry and support a more welcoming culture, and which make it harder for the security-creeps to get their way politically. Marches, walk-outs, know-your-rights workshops, and everything else. My point here was that the last 4 years seem like a pretty convincing demonstration that the important changes are not changes in the governing party (because we got those changes, in a landslide, and, in spite of the promises, what then happened is that everything got measurably much worse), and probably we need to focus our energy on changing something else. But if we keep compromising our demands every 2-4 years and studiously avoid the topic when broaching it might make things harder on an elected Democrat, then that directly harms our ability to seriously change the moral and social conversation around immigration freedom.



October 26th, 2012 at 5:59 am

see my point about gay rights…

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