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Twelve Stories: How Democracy Works Now | Participants



Tamar Jacoby

We met Tamar‘s voice before we met Tamar - she was often the smartest-sounding person on a speaker phone wafting out of assorted advocates‘ offices as we arrived to film. But where was she?

It turned out Tamar was mostly in New York, based at the famously conservative Manhattan Institute where she was a Senior Fellow. She was an author who specialized first in integration and later in immigration issues, gifted at framing arguments for Republicans certainly. But her interest in, and take on, the question of immigration reform seemed to be very much in line with EWIC‘s, and Demetri‘s and Frank‘s. She was excited by the idea of a rational immigration system that would be fair, and would actually work -- for all the parties involved. At first, she simply wrote about the issue; over time, she edged closer to the line separating reporters from advocates.

As fissures in the Republican party over immigration started to open after 9/11, Tamar argued vigorously for the benefits to the country, and especially to American business, of staying the course begun by President Bush earlier that summer. Her January 2002 essay, “Distinguishing Terrorists from Busboys: How to Think about Immigration” even helped re-energize discouraged advocates gathered for the National Immigration Forum‘s conference shortly afterward.

By the summer of 2004, when she went to Arizona to help with the NO ON 200 campaign against an anti-immigrant state ballot initiative, Tamar had moved over to become an advocate entirely. She remained a brilliant voice for comprehensive reform, though. In fact, one of her Wall Street Journal opinion pieces was xeroxed into thousands of flyers for the NO ON 200 campaigners to hand out as they went door to door.

As the Republican party continued to splinter over immigration reform, Tamar‘s role in articulating the pro-immigrant conservative point of view became more crucial. She eventually moved to Washington to do it full time, and her work helped form a much broader pro-reform coalition for the big Senate fights of 2006 and 2007. In some sense, Tamar‘s trajectory from the abstract, think-tank world into a political street fight mirrors the path Comprehensive Immigration Reform has taken since 2001.

After the Senate bill failed in 2007, Tamar founded ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation of state-based business coalitions working to hone their message as they build and train for a renewed CIR debate in Congress. The ultimate goal: to have a grassroots army in place when immigration reform comes up again in Washington, ensuring that next time, there will be the national business presence that was missing during the last debate.

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