Amid numerous reports that the Obama Administration is edging away from a timeline on an immigration reform bill, the often spirited town hall meetings have already begun. Last night, Virginia Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) held a town hall meeting at a church in Falls Church, VA, to discuss pending immigration legislation. In a room full of more than 300 area residents and a few local groups—NAACP, Asian Americans of Virginia and the Dar Al HirJrah Islamic Center—Congressman Jim Moran said he plans to co-sponsor Congressman Luis Guiterrez’s forthcoming immigration bill and spoke of the importance of progress and the danger of ignoring the status quo.
This is not going to be easy. It’s going to be very difficult. If we do not hear from those who want progress from this country, we will hear from those who want the status quo. And if that happens, we will not get this legislation.
A shout heard from the audience, now the norm for town hall meetings and apparently Presidential addresses, was atypical of most theatrical town hall antics—”Let’s work together.” Given the multi-ethnic audience, one can only hope that the theme of working together sets a new tone for the immigration debate—especially considering Virginia’s history with contentious immigration enforcement policy.
Even though the shouts and murmurs of immigration restrictionists have echoed throughout the White House and tied both the immigration and health care debates together, there has been some recent positive momentum in the immigration debate—last night’s town hall meeting, numerous faith group rallies, Congressman Gutierrez’s pending bill and DHS’s continued efforts to revamp enforcement policies and overhaul immigration detention systems.
But more significant is President Obama’s repeated commitment to immigration reform and his commitment to setting a reasoned and rational tone to the debate. At the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s award gala, President Obama commented on attempts to derail the immigration debate:
Even though I do not believe we can extend coverage to those who are here illegally, I also don’t simply believe we can simply ignore the fact that our immigration system is broken. That’s why I strongly support making sure folks who are here legally have access to affordable, quality health insurance under this plan, just like everybody else. And we certainly should not let this debate on health care—one so essential to Hispanic Americans and all Americans—get sidetracked by those looking to exploit divisions and kill reform at any cost. If anything, this debate underscores the necessity of passing comprehensive immigration reform and resolving the issue of 12 million undocumented people living and working in this country once and for all. That’s what I’ve said from the start. That’s what I say tonight.
It’s true that President Obama has prioritized immigration reform after health care reform, but that doesn’t make an immigration reform bill any less important or less passable. Millions of people in the United States will be affected by an overhaul of our immigration system. We can only hope that Virginia’s town hall meeting last night reflects reasoned debates to come—debates that arrive at solutions to a broken system rather than at divisive shouting matches that serve political agendas.