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Beltway Confidential

Despair shows in immigration activists' tactics

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Protests usually involve alerting the media. That is, after all, the whole point: to bring attention to the protesters’ issue.

So it was a little odd that pro-immigration group Casa In Action staged a noisy event at the Arlington residence of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on Nov. 20 without apparently telling anyone in advance.

Couple that with the fact that the activists entered Cantor’s condo complex under false pretenses — one protester pretended he was inquiring about renting a unit, then let the others in — and it begins to look less like activism and more like simple harassment.

If the protesters intended this as a demonstration of political strength, it backfired. You don’t storm into somebody’s private home late at night when momentum is on your side. It was a desperation tactic. They are losing — and they know it.

Renato Mendoza, a Casa In Action organizer, conceded as much to me: “We are really short on time, especially since everything right now is about Obamacare. Immigration has been second or third on the list. It has been a really tough year.”

When President Obama gave a speech in San Francisco on Monday, he was heckled by an activist who demanded he bypass Congress and suspend all deportations. Obama was left to insist that the law tied his hands.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Pro-immigration activists had every reason to be optimistic for 2013. Latino votes were seen as crucial in Obama’s re-election. Numerous voices in the Republican Party warned they had to shift on the issue.

The reformers believed they could push a bill through over the objections of GOP critics who demand it include a “border security first” trigger. They didn't need to the compromise. It was the GOP that needed to.

“[H]olding citizenship hostage to the bureaucrats in Washington doing their jobs on the implementation of security is unreasonable and unfair,” activist Eliseo Medina, now part of a hunger strike, said in July.

Instead, GOP resistance held, and by mid-November, the activists’ optimism had curdled into despair.

“We have gotten nothing — nothing. That is why we have to escalate to another level,” Maria Elena Durazo, an immigration activist with the AFL-CIO, told reporters.

The protesters' fallback is that they will win when the Republicans’ intransigence catches up with them. Reform, they insist, is broadly popular. Surely the GOP’s resolve will crack after yet another round of election shellackings.

Perhaps, but elections are about more than one issue. If the current polls are to be believed, the GOP may just have snatched the health care issue away from the Democrats for the foreseeable future thanks to Obamacare. That alone may counter any losses over the immigration issue.

A closer look at the polls on immigration may also be in order. Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, touted a November poll by the Partnership for a New American Economy that showed 71 percent of Americans favor comprehensive reform.

That number is less impressive when you read the wording of the question: The poll asked about a reform that “secures our borders” and “provides an employer verification program” — two of the very features Republican lawmakers have insisted on.

There is a parallel here to the last serious effort to pass a comprehensive reform, the 2006-2007 effort by Sens. Ted Kennedy and John McCain. It received only lukewarm liberal support because many regarded it as too weak.

Kennedy pleaded with his allies during a June 2007 floor vote: “This bill may not be perfect, but it is the best opportunity we have to do something significant.”

Sixteen Democrats voted with most Republicans to kill the bill in a cloture vote that month. Activists thought they would have a better version under a Democratic White House in 2009.

Five years later, they are still waiting. If they really want to pass something, they may want to rethink their opposition to the GOP's conditions.

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner