Inside Looking Out

This week a bipartisan congressional group announced a framework for immigration reform. That means this will be going on the legislative agenda, and we’ll be hearing about it all year, as it works its way through both houses of Congress.

On the one hand, this is a tremendous achievement of the immigrant rights movement. On the other, the work has just begun – in two senses. One is that who gets included in reform is up for grabs. How that plays out – whether domestic workers are included, whether DREAMers are included, whether same-sex couples are included – it’s all going to be negotiated. The central compromise that seems to have allowed the framework to come together is the idea that the undocumented go to the “back of the line.” Part of the need for comprehensive immigration reform is that the system is broken – those who are in line have been there too long, and the line doesn’t make sense or work well. So being sent to the back of the line could mean years and years in a twilight state. (Contrast this with how quickly some people got their deferred action under DACA this past year.) How much of an improvement that is over life in the shadows remains to be seen.

The other way in which the work is just beginning is that it’s not clear who’s going to get 11 million undocumented people registered and along the pathway to citizenship. DACA was a test case. How well did it work? How easy was it for people to find above-board, affordable assistance with the process. There are a lot of shysters in the immigration-law world. Will the supply meet the demand? What’s the role of nonprofit legal-assistance groups, and do they have the resources and support to get the job done? Lot to be figured out.

Place-based funders: have you shown your local legal-services organization some love lately? Now is the time!

This is the nitty-gritty work of social change. After years of pushing at the national and local levels, a real transformation may be imminent. But in two important senses, the work has just begun. Stay tuned. And keep an eye out for who’s on the table, and who’s lined up to help people along a potential pathway to citizenship. This election helped put comprehensive immigration reform back on the table, and sustained public pressure and awareness will help keep these important issues – who gets included, and who gets people registered – in the light where they belong. #philant


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