New York State mid-terms could set the tempo for national immigration reform, but only if progressively minded Democrats are put under pressure from immigrant rights groups - they must keep up the pressure
The public furore over the Trump administrations zero tolerance immigration policies has been forecasted to be a major factor in the 2018 midterm elections this November. Earlier this year members of both sides of the political aisle left Congress without a stimulus towards their respective immigration related projects.The omnibus spending bill did not include sufficient funds for the much-vaunted border wall, nor did it propose to defund “sanctuary cities” or provide a solution on the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program – effectively rescinded by Trump last September. Both the GOP and DNC will approach this electoral cycle from different vantage points, but effectively basing their campaigns around their jilted goals on immigration.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, there are eight sanctuary counties in New York. New York State is one of the key 21 legislative battleground chamber in the 2018 elections, with all 63 Senate seats up for election this November. Over the course of April and May, 2018 five Republican incumbents announced that they would not be seeking re-election whilst a number of others turned red in 2016 but by way of low majorities. Since Trump’s electoral upset, the Republican controlled state has displayed differing perspectives on immigration reform. In March of this year, the Republican controlled senate passed bill S3698, with the implicit intention to crack down on cities and counties which have adapted sanctuary polices. The measure would mean that the New York would have to compile a list of local jurisdictions that have policies which interfere with the enforcement of ICE detainer requests – with the threat of funding cuts if these policies are not rescinded. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Thomas Croci, one of the five not seeking re-election, has used the moral panic of MS-13and its questionable relationship to undocumented migration in order to propose the bill. The bill failed to clear the State Assemly, with Assemblyman Kevin Cahill declaring it “dead on arrival”. Kingston Mayor Steve Noble noted that the legislation “includes provisions meant to intimidate local governments and law enforcement agencies”.
House of Representatives and the move to abolish ICE
In late June, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Democratic Latina socialist from the Bronx unseated Joe Crowley. Crowley, a 10-term veteran with the full wait of the Democratic Party’s political weight behind him was resound beaten by grassroots campaign which had the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as one of its key campaign pledges. New York Democrats are leading the party on this burgeoning movement, with Mayor Bill de Blasio declaring that “ICE’s time has come and gone”. Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez of New York’s seventh district even further in a statement in June commenting that “while eliminating ICE would be an important step, it is not enough to halt Donald Trump’s deportation machine”. Even mainstream DNC operators like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has stated that she does not see ICE “working as intended”. This shift by the leadership is not by way of an internal Damascene moment, but rather from outside agitation from organized immigration rights activists, and the infiltration of their concerns into the party. This has come by way of two-fold process.The first came through the institutions of organized labor shifting their stance on immigration, who saw a reservoir of potential members in the the country’s growing exploitation prone immigrant population. The party then moved to the left on immigration by reacting to public concern towards the punitive nature of immigration detention and deportation – public concern which was lead by more direct action oriented radical migrant rights groups– the spearhead of this movement has been the DREAMERs.
DACA and New York City politics
Those protected under the Differed Entry for Childhood Arrival Act (DACA) are known as DREAMers, they range in age from 15 – 36 and number around 787,580. The DREAMer movement became a vanguard movement in the immigration debate as far back as 2010, when they successfully pressured the US Senateto bring a bill to legalize their status. Since then they have staged demonstrations, direct actions and lobbied sympathetic politicians up and down the country. In New York City, DREAMers are an indispensable component of the city’s workforce and income. In 2017 DREAMers contributed $4.7 billion in GDP for the city, with the a 69% labor force participation. In February of this year, NY State assembly announced that they will pass a State version of the DREAM Actwhich will help DREAMers access educational opportunities. The Act was left out of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 budget proposal due to Republican control of the Senate, prompting 10 Dreamer’s to launch a hunger strike and mass demonstrations across colleges in New York City. This state-wide version of the DREAM Act has been a touchstone topic for Cuomo’s popularity in New York City, with many within his own party accusing him of vacuous opportunism when it comes to immigration reform, and even compliance with the current deportation regime. Sen. José Peraltahas commented that Cuomo has an incentive to stick by the Act being included in the budget, in order to build support for a potential 2020 presidential run.
Immigration is likely to be a major factor in the upcoming midterm elections for New York City, and New York State. The Democratic political machine, under particular pressure from grassroots activists, has swung to a far more progressive stance on immigration. From entrenching sanctuary legislation in order to avoid cooperation with federal immigration agencies, to DREAMer based legislation, and even calls for the dismantlement of ICE itself. These changes in New York are not happening in isolation to shifts within the DNC itself, and the broader work of immigrant rights groups across the country. However the party is not yet singing off the same hymn sheet. On July 12 Democrats introduced the “Establishing a Humane Immigration Enforcement System Act”, a bill which would effectively terminate ICE within a year. The bill was brought to the floor by Republicans, a move of political gamesmanship which called the Democrats bluff, forcing them to plan to vote against it. Democrats know that the majority of the electorate are against the abolition of ICE, even if they have viewed Trump’s detention of children as callous. If contradictions between local politicians in the party and the DNC on immigration deepen in the run up to the midterm immigrant rights activists need to ensure the pressure is kept up. This must be done in such a way so that the net beneficiary elements of City and State-wide support for a just and human immigration system is propagated to the rest of the country. Immigrants rights end up reinforcing the benefits and rights of all, if this message is championed then the the Overton window on immigration reform across the country can be channelled towards radical and progressive ends.