Health Care Reform's Lessons for Immigration Reform

I hear 200,000 people came to the National Mall in Washington D.C. on Sunday.

But the three top stories on Google News were

Huffington Post proclaimed "This is what change looks like" and then went on to declare "Wall-to-Wall Health Care."

So what happens when 200,000 people come to the National Mall and no one seems to notice much?

It proves as Marcelo Ballvé says in an interview on New America Now this is not about "a final push for immigration reform." This rally is more about angry activists who still feel they are on the outside despite White House meetings with the likes of Ali Noorani of National Immigration Forum.

It's about national groups feeling the frustration of a congress that seems to be mired in molasses. So America's Voice decides to make public its "internal" poll that shows the Latino swing vote might sit out the 2010 election if immigration reform doesn't come back on the agenda. And it puts the Democratic leadership (never known for great acts of boldness) in a quandary - who can they afford to piss off before the 2010 elections. Immigration reform seems to be the perennial damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don't political hot potato.

But hopefully if it does get back on the agenda (if the Schumer-Graham bipartisan bill is indeed a starting point) immigration advocates and leaders in Congress will have taken some pointers from the health care odyssey.

That bill was supposed to be an issue that broad segments of Americans agreed on - health care costs were spiraling, insurance companies held Americans hostage. The stumbling block was supposed to be the insurance companies and big Pharma. The White House tried to make backroom deals with them so that they wouldn't hold up health care reform and in its smugness the White House failed to communicate with the larger public about what it was doing. The pushback was hard, vicious, fanned by teabaggers and Glenn Becks and it almost derailed health care reform. Finally it limped into being, shielded by arcane procedural rules, its champions exhausted and mumbling promises of 'let's pass now and fix later', a bill so moth-eaten by compromise that I am not quite sure what actually passed.

At this point it was not about health care reform passing in as much as it was about a Democrat president, a Democrat Senate and a Democrat Congress demonstrating that it could actually pass something more than wind.

Which is to say immigration advocates had better beware. The immigration bill (if it really comes to passage) will be battered beyond recognition if its advocates in Congress don't sell it aggressively to the public at large. They had better leave themselves plenty of wiggle room in the bill they start with if they have any hopes of passing a bill they can live with.

If they can't, like health care reform, they may reach the same impasse - a bill so enforcement-heavy and weighed down it will no longer be any real reform and it may lose the very people whose support it hoped to get, cover far fewer people than it intended, and leave the job less than half-done. And in the end be just a symbolic bill that manages to piss off everybody.

And it will certainly piss off the 200,000 in the National Mall. That's just those who made it to D.C. The country seems to be on the march everywhere.

There is the March for California's Future happening right now up San Joaquin Valley in California.

There are the Trail of Dreams marchers - undocumented students going through KKK country from Florida to Washington D.C.

2500 marched in D.C. to protest the seventh anniversary of the Iraq and Afghan War.

And there were the caravans upon caravans that descended on Washington D.C. this weekend to demonstrate that thousands promised change, are getting restless for change. They may not get the coverage a gaggle of Tea Party protests can muster but they are happening.

Washington may not have the guts to deliver that change. It's just a march they will say.
But 80 years ago, there was another march in March. That one was led by Gandhi protesting the unjust salt tax. The Salt March to Dandi helped bring down the mighty British Empire.

Beware the marches of March.