The anti-immigration forces fail to show up

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a prominent anti-immigration voice, talking to a very small audience.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a prominent anti-immigration voice, talking to a very small audience.

It’s easy to forget, but in 2007, comprehensive immigration reform stood a reasonably good chance of passing. Then-President George W. Bush was a major proponent, and most congressional Democrats were on board. So what happened? The Republicans’ far-right base screamed bloody murder; GOP lawmakers balked; and the bill died.

This summer, the right’s anti-immigration wing hoped for a sequel. A bipartisan bill has already passed the Senate, and while the outcome in the House is in doubt, conservatives hoped to use the August recess to tip the scales in their favor. How’s that working out?

As The Atlantic’s Molly Balluag reported, not terribly well.

Activists opposed to immigration reform were all set to spend this month putting pressure on lawmakers to kill the legislation. But it hasn’t exactly been a show of force.

Last week, the Tea Party Patriots and NumbersUSA, two groups opposed to “amnesty” legislation, heavily publicized a rally in Richmond, Virginia, featuring Steve King, the firebrand Republican congressman who recently claimed most undocumented youth are physically fit drug mules. But only a few dozen people showed up – far short of the hundreds organizers had planned for.

It’s not that activists interested in immigration have failed to show up; it’s that most of the activists who bothered to get off the couch and have their voices heard support reform. If the goal, as Balluag put it, was to show the House of Representatives “where the most passionate support lies,” this hasn’t been much of a fight – progressives have effectively won by default, as the right continues to cancel anti-reform rallies due to lack of interest.

There are competing explanations for this.

Maybe anti-immigration passion has cooled in light of the electoral and demographic realities facing the Republican Party; maybe anti-immigrant activists assume the House GOP will kill reform anyway so there’s no reason to invest a lot of energy in a fight conservatives are probably going to win anyway.

My personal favorite: the right can only focus on so many issues, and they’re letting immigration slide because they’re still desperate to prevent millions of Americans from having access to affordable health care.

Whether the left’s lopsided August successes will have a practical effect on Capitol Hill remains to be seen, but if there are still lawmakers who care about public attitudes, the last few weeks hopefully left an impression.