U.S. Immigration's Egyptian Moment
Since January 25, the events in Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square have transfixed the world. Following on the heels of the Tunisian people's overthrow of their despot, the Egyptian uprising reveals a fundamental law of physics: In a closed system, energy can be neither created nor destroyed.
So too in politics. Universal political energy -- the pent-up longing for freedom and self-determination -- is now leveraged and magnified in new and unpredictable ways by Twitter and Facebook. Inexorably, that energy, as the Egyptian protestors have shown us, will ultimately be released.
Hosni Mubarak's 30-year authoritarian, pressure-cooker reign, supported throughout by the unmonitored and unaccountable Egyptian police, is coming to an end. And once again, as many times before, the American government and political establishment have been caught flat-footed, on the wrong side of history, knocked over by popular energy, while supporting a fallen dictator.
A similar dynamic is playing out inside America. The tightening of the border by "deploying historic levels of manpower, resources and technology and increasing collaboration with federal, state, local and tribal, and Mexican partners" has achieved unprecedented levels of impregnability -- according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in remarks at the University of Texas in El Paso last week. America is rapidly becoming a closed system.
At the same time, the energy-pressure readings -- of Latinos, Asians and other immigrant groups who rightly perceive themselves as targets of xenophobia -- are escalating. As reported by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute and the Government Accountability Office, the immigration enforcers, in league with state, regional and city police agencies operating under the Congressionally authorized 287(g) program, are largely unmonitored and unaccountable. The 287(g) program, touted as a means of apprehending and removing dangerous foreign felons, has instead gone "rogue" and mostly netted petty immigration violators and small-scale misdemeanants, while arousing ire and fear in local immigrant communities.
As the energy of righteous anger builds, not only traditional Democrats but even conservative Latinos chide President Obama for abandoning his campaign promises, and failing to try hard, let alone deliver, on immigration reform. The Republicans (notwithstanding Norm Coleman's recent rebuke of Tom Tancredo) are even more adrift on immigration, mounting a campaign against "anchor babies" and trying to override the 14th amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship.
Meantime, despite a virulent economic recession and a record number of deportations, the unauthorized immigrant population (11.2 million in 2010) remains virtually unchanged from the year before, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
All of the essential requirements for an energized reaction are present. DREAMers have nowhere to go but to the street and to their smartphones. Spanish- and other foreign-language media will report growing resentment, anger and the desire for justice among their U.S. citizen and immigrant readers -- reporting largely unnoticed in the Anglo mediascape. U.S. politicians of every stripe, like Hosni Mubarak, will be caught unawares when the energy is released.