The moment for Democrats to finally resolve one of the country’s most controversial issues of the past 20 years was back in 2008, and as much as they won’t want to admit it, a full-court team effort never really materialized back then. The failure to meet that 2008 promise — which came after a 2007 bipartisan bill failed under a Democratic-controlled Congress — continues to echo. Even a Dream Act push failed in 2010, when five Democratic senators joined most of the Republicans in voting no.
Biden’s decision to use part of his political capital on immigration may seem bold to some, but to many who have watched years of immigration inaction, the move generates skepticism, no matter how many statements are coming from Latino political organizations, which seem to take no issue that Biden’s immigration push might take longer than 100 days. We have seen promises erased by waves of deportations and more enforcement.
From the days in the 1990s when Bill Clinton sounded like Donald Trump to an Obama-Biden administration that aggressively enforced removal orders, earning President Barack Obama the label of “deporter in chief,” and created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) only after immigrant rights activists forced the issue in 2012 — we have seen a Democratic Party that lacks any real courage on this issue.
Right-wing media and obstructionist Republicans always manage to weaken their resolve — and that’s why we’ve never seen results.
Now we have a bill that calls for an eight-year path to citizenship. It’s the kind of time table offered to placate critics. Predictably, Republicans came out in unison with familiar attacks of “amnesty” and “open borders.” They continue to be the bully at the debate, while Democrats can’t figure out how to respond.
But Democrats and Biden should look to reinforce their ranks beyond Washington, D.C. Arizona, which delivered a key victory for the presidential campaign, is home to organized activists who have been fighting against the racist SB 1070 law of 2010. These activists have turned the tables in a state notorious for its immigration laws. Biden’s decision to propose immigration reform on his first day indicates that he knows that a record-breaking turnout of Latino voters delivered states like Arizona to him. Could the Biden administration tap into that energy and switch the narrative? A lot of people on the ground just want to be asked to be part of the fight. As a Salvadoran immigrant with temporary protected status told The Post recently: “This sets a new narrative, moving us away from being seen as criminals and people on the public charge to opening the door for us to eventually become Americans.”
It will be hard. Many Americans won’t magically get rid of the xenophobia and anti-immigration feelings they were fed constantly during the Trump years. But at this stage, Biden should know that 81 percent of Americans favor a pathway to citizenship, so why not push aggressively instead of trying to acquiesce to Republicans?
It is that acquiescence that led to Clinton pushing a tough Democratic stance in the 1990s and also why Obama did what he did years later. If Biden now takes the safe route, ignoring campaign issues that have some viable support with Democratic voters, particularly Latino Democrats — the closing of detention centers, the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and a real reckoning of failed U.S. policies in Central America — he would have wasted another historic opportunity, again.
Democrats still have trouble convincing the country that migrants — no matter how they got here and why they got here — have greatly benefited this nation. As is this country’s tradition, it is much easier to criticize the loss of some past America, instead of looking at new arrivals as the impetus that keeps this country great.
Maybe that is what Biden will begin to change. Maybe he has seen too many immigration losses. But forgive those who have seen this all before and are hoping that this isn’t another rerun.