4542692638_172bc72621_zIn the classic baseball movie Bull Durham, Kevin Costner’s eyes go misty as he talks about how great it was to be “in the show” (the major league) for 21 days before being kicked back down to minor league ball. Immigration reform was in the show this spring for 60 days or so, ending in June with the passage of S. 744. But then, well, it feels like we too have been sent back to the minors, with many pundits predicting that the House won’t get to immigration reform this year.  Those who think that, however, should consider the major league/minor league analogy a bit more carefully.

Today, minor league baseball operates as both a proving ground for the majors and as an entity in its own right. So does the work of immigration reformers. Just like in the minors, we have to be ready when opportunity calls. No one likes delay— especially when the consequences are more deportations, lost economic opportunities, and family separations—but the House’s delay is also an opportunity to grow stronger. The August recess was an excellent example of making good use of supposedly “lost” time. Many hoped the House would quickly take up immigration reform after the Senate vote, but when it was clear this wouldn’t happen, people put their energies into organizing a massive campaign to bring House Members on board. During the five weeks or so of recess, groups put together 1,194 events in 41 different states. More than 600,000 people signed a petition calling for immigration reform that was delivered to the Speaker of the House, and thousands of people visited and called their Members of Congress. Twenty-five House Republicans are now on record supporting legalization for undocumented immigrants that includes a path to citizenship. That work is paving the way to a better outcome than we might have seen in July.

Similarly, we know Congress is being asked to consider pressing issues this fall: the proper response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, another budget battle, and yet another debt ceiling debate. Many have argued that this list of priorities means that any other concerns, like immigration reform, are dead in the water, but it’s all about timing. Who could have predicted that the White House would pivot to a diplomatic solution on Syria, with Senator Reid postponing the first test vote on Syria in light of these developments? The gravity of the appropriate response to Syria’s human rights abuses cannot be downplayed, and will surely consume much Congressional time, but it’s clear that Congress’s calendar looks different today than it did yesterday.

Does this mean there’s a window of opportunity to do something on immigration? Yes. But more to the point, it illustrates that the public cannot control the process or the timing of issues. What we can do, however, is be ready. Regardless of what votes are scheduled on immigration, it is necessary to continue the education and public discussion about immigration reform. Members of Congress will be far more likely to seize an opportunity to act if they have been fully briefed by their constituents and if the consequences of inaction have been made clear. This means there is plenty of work to do right now, irrespective of what the fall schedule looks like.

This work is not only taking place at the federal level but also at the state level, both in creating positive opportunities for immigrants and protecting against anti-immigrant measures. Similarly, take a trip to a Potomac Nationals game or any other minor league team and you’ll see that there’s a lot going on there, with a fan base and sense of community that makes the minor leagues more than just a stepping stone. That’s the way it is with immigration reform, as well. There’s so much to be done at all levels that we can’t stop, even when the prospects of getting to “the show” aren’t that bright. We have to be ready, because when the show calls, it will be game time.

Photo Courtesy of Laffy4K.