Story 8 The Road to Miami
January, 2004: The White House looks as though it has abandoned immigration reform. But labor's opposition has also derailed Kennedy's bill, creating a political opening for Republicans in an election year when the Latino vote could be key. President Bush gives a strong speech on immigration, highlighting last summer's Arizona model and redefining the national debate. The pro-immigration community is divided. Advocate Frank Sharry determines to forge a new, counter-balancing left alliance. If Senator Kennedy and firebrand Congressman Luis Gutierrez can find common ground, the game just might swing the other way.
Two years after 9/11, President Bush has turned away from immigration reform and pro-immigration advocates are starting to worry their cause will never come back. The first voice to dare public criticism is a famous old lion of the Immigrants Rights movement, Raul Yzaguire, leader of the National Council of La Raza. His 2003 speech at NCLR's annual conference that summer challenges the White House not to take the Latino vote for granted.
In short order, opposition inside the labor movement derails the immigration advocates' only other hope -- Senator Kennedy's bill has stalled. There's a real danger other Senate offices will try to hijack the comprehensive deal his Immigration Counsel Esther has been working so hard to broker, and introduce a bill more friendly to business. The advocates are uneasy, but they're desperate for a bill to rally 'round.
The impasse creates an opening for Republicans. Next year is a Presidential election year, and the Latino vote could be critical. Over the holidays, rumors spread that the White House may be planning something on immigration. On January 7, 2004, President Bush gives a strong speech on immigration, highlighting the need for a new guestworker program modeled along the lines of the Kolbe-Flake-McCain bill introduced last July. In a flash, the initiative moves from the Senate to the Republican Party. The President has redefined the debate.
Reactions from the pro-immigrant advocate community are strong, immediate -- and all over the map. Business advocates, some of the pro-immigration unions and moderates like Frank Sharry at the National Immigration Forum decide to make the best of the moment and challenge the White House to deliver. But Raul's organization, NCLR, and other progressives refuse to wait and see. They launch a radio campaign in Spanish-language media that blasts the White House for too little, too late. Tensions among allies run high. The disarray is paralyzing.
In this moment of uncertainty and opportunity, Frank determines to forge a left-leaning alliance between Ted Kennedy and Congressman Luis Gutierrez -- and a Democrat-only bill to counter the Republicans' guestworker plans, with visible support from Labor this time. It takes a backroom coup at the national convention of the AFL-CIO in Miami to get official sign-on from the unions. Still Kennedy is reluctant to take up this cause in an election year. But in May, he and Gutierrez introduce the S.O.L.V.E. bill in both Senate and House.
Election season takes over shortly. Nothing more happens with S.O.L.V.E. or the Kolbe-Flake-McCain bills, though both Arizona Congressmen get primary challengers for their efforts. The January speech does the trick for the President, though, despite the fact that the White House makes not a single further move on immigration.
Though the Republican base is inflamed, the the Latino community is encouraged and on election day, George Bush's margin of victory -- about 3 million votes -- is slightly less than the total number of Latino votes in his favor. With those, the White House wins another 4 years. The country is still waiting for a solution to the growing immigration problem.