Sunday, August 16, 2009

Immigration fight coming

Daphne Eviatar reports in the Washington Independent Anti-Immigration Activists See Opportunity in Health Care Debate 08/14/09:

As the heat gets turned up on the health care reform debate, anti-immigrant activists are using the issue to whip up fear and anger toward immigrants, portraying them as a costly and burdensome drain on any taxpayer-supported U.S. health care system. Angry questions about illegal immigrants getting health care at town hall meetings across the country have put many lawmakers on the defensive.
One of the things that attending the 2009 Netroots Nation conference impressed on me was that immigration is going to be a big issue during the next few months. Obama has committed himself to what's known as "comprehensive immigration reform". The administration is now talking about pushing consideration of that legislation into 2010. But pro-migrant activists are concerned that Congress will be leery about enacting such legislation in an election year. (Have we reached the place that Congress will use every other year to take elections as an excuse not to try doing anything difficult, not matter how important?)

Dave Neiwert was in the audience at one of the panels. And he made the point that the immigration debate can be expected to promote even more outlandish claims from the right than the current health care debate. Nativist groups have been organizing for years and working to imbed their perspectives on immigration into the policy debate.

And anti-immigrant groups are using the health care debate to start their offense against decent immigration reform. Eviatar:

At his town hall meeting in Pennsylvania, for example, Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter had to assure protesters that illegal immigrants would not be covered. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has gone out of her way to make that point as well. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) faced similar shouted questions at his town hall forum on Wednesday, and repeatedly emphasized that illegal immigrants are not covered by the House bill. President Obama has also made the point, although it’s not clear that the anti-reform activists have heard it.

The protesters are spurred on in large part by immigration restrictionist groups who are using the health care debate to spread fears about immigrants. The restrictionist group Numbers USA, for example, has been posting video interviews online with unnamed “experts” warning that emergency rooms are overwhelmed by both legal and illegal immigrants, and that subsidized health care won’t be available for other low-income Americans because immigrants will be using it all up. [my emphasis]
I'm actually dismayed that undocumented immigrants are not covered by the national health insurance plans. We went through a debate on that in California in 1994 when Pete Wilson was pushing his anti-immigrant proposition that thereafter turned California into a safe "blue" state in national elections. There are millions of undocumented immigrants, even by the more conservative estimates. Most of them come here to work. They live in neighborhoods, many in urban areas, their kids attend schools. If they are impeded from receiving treatment for communicable diseases, that can adversely affect the public health of schools and neighborhoods. It's a fool notion to try ban them from using health care facilities. Not to mention just plain nasty.

We can safely assume from the way in which the health care debate has played out that the Republicans will encourage the propaganda and agitation of nativist groups, that Party leader Limbaugh and the Party channel FOX News will flog those claims as hard as they can, the pundits will demand "bipartisan" solutions that compromise the extreme anti-immigrant position with moderate Democratic positions and rate the value those compromises by how much they upset "the left", and that the Democrats will look for the way out that gives them the least criticism from the pundits and
Republicans and ruffle the feathers of the fewest corporate lobbyists.

We very much need realistic immigration reform that recognizes the reality of our economy's dependence on migrant workers.

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