Last Thursday, a diverse group of undocumented immigrants, citizen immigrants, representatives of the faith community and citizens born within the United States walked out in front of a deportation bus and sat down. They remained there until the police removed them, threatening to have the Department of Homeland Security make arrests and press federal charges. This demonstration occurs at a critical time in national politics, where Republicans, fresh from the shutdown and debt ceiling, will be too weak to oppose the Democrats' agenda in the near future.
Though this demonstration is extraordinary in that more than 20 demonstrators were risking arrest, it is part of a growing trend of escalation within the immigrant rights community. This trend has included the DREAM 9, nine young immigrants who were not cleared to reenter the country, visiting family in Mexico and then returning through ports of entry, only to be put into immigration detention prisons (recreated on a larger scale by the DREAM 30). At other recent demonstrations, deportation busses were stopped when immigrant rights demonstrators stepped in front of a deportation bus in Phoenix, Ariz., or chained themselves to the tires Tucson. Also in Tucson, demonstrators blocked an immigration courthouse, leading to the courthouse to have to close for the day.
The border protests, stopping of ICE busses and closing of courthouses have been taking place alongside demonstrations all over the country, especially during the National Day of Action on Oct. 5. Meanwhile, in the Capitol, we have seen some of the most intense acts of civil disobedience: eight legislators, including civil rights hero John Lewis (D-GA), were arrested along with 200 others in the National Mall during a demonstration that included thousands to call for immigration reform, and more than 100 women (20 of whom were undocumented) were arrested in Washington, D.C., for sitting down in a four-way intersection, stopping traffic and demanding "Fair Immigration Reform."
While it is hard to tell where this is leading, these demonstrations have been able to keep immigration reform in the headlines. Though the shutdown and debt ceiling have absorbed most of the media's attention and almost all the headlines, immigration reform is remaining a constant issue just below the dysfunction in Washington.
What is more obvious, however, is that the Republican Party is now in a compromised position: After the House GOP took its cues from Ted Cruz and shut down the government, they have hit new lows in opinion polling, such as a 24 percent favorable rating. This has been unseen since the advent of modern polling like Gallup. These numbers are largely because House GOP members like Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Steve King (R-IA) have gone out front alongside the rest of the Tea Party Caucus to be the faces of the shutdown.
With this shutdown being so unpopular, even within the Republican Party, Gohmert and King will most likely be isolated by the GOP, which is now upset with them for dragging them so far down in the polls. Gohmert and King are also the most bluntly outspoken Republicans against immigration, Gohmert becoming infamous for his "Terror Babies" theory of pregnant women being paid to travel to the U.S. and raise their children as terrorists, King for his comment that DREAMers were drug mules with "calves the size of cantaloupes" because they were running drugs through the desert: It's part of a pattern that is not limited to one issue, however, it has become particularly ugly over immigration.
Demonstrations like this have been instrumental in keeping the attention on immigration reform. This is critical: Republicans, especially the Tea Party Caucus that is much less friendly toward immigrants, will not have the political leverage to fight the next few bills. Much like how the 1998 shutdown gave the Clinton administration enough political leverage over the GOP to accomplish much of its agenda after, the Democrats will have a grace period when the public will have lost faith in Republicans, and will not tolerate them throwing monkey wrenches into the gears of every piece of reasonable legislation proposed.
This, combined with the fact that our current 113th Congress is quite close to being the least productive in U.S. history and pressures to accomplish legislation are mounting, will mean that we should expect new laws to be created, and the GOP will be forced to make concessions which they would not have before the shutdown.
In the end, the last compromise offered, the right-leaning Gang of 8 bill, was defeated when Congressmen like Gohmert threatened the leadership of Speaker of the House Boehner, ultimately preventing him from bringing legislation which most likely had the votes to pass. With so many demonstrators from across a diverse section of electorally important demographics all making headlines and staying on the consciousness of the public and legislators, it is hard to see how immigration legislation could be dragged as far to the right and/or blocked by the same unreasonable Tea Party Caucus.