The immigration rally yesterday in D.C. had an exceptionally low turn-out, approximately 5,000 people total. The nascent movement seems to have lost its momentum before it accomplished anything substantial, but it would be unwise to dismiss the potential political power of our immigrants just yet. Timing is everything, and it is clear that yesterday’s timing was not clearly considered when the rally was planned.
There are several key reasons why this rally failed to pull in many protesters, the most notable being that immigration reform legislation, which seemed to be on the forefront of congressional priority in April, has effectively been tabled for now. With no real legislative threat or possibilities looming, there is little reason for the average immigrant to take a day off from work, take the kids out of school, and travel to D.C. for a rally. There was also no clear purpose, other than to follow up from April’s rallies, thus there was little chance to attract a crowd. Finally, as a group most immigrants are paid by the hour; if they don’t work, they don’t get paid. Taking time off from work to do anything is unlikely unless it is viewed as a true necessity. To get immigrants out the door and into the streets, they need a compelling reason; the organizers yesterday obviously did not provide one.
Perhaps the most important reason the rally did not succeed is the perception that the immigrant presence on the street can be counterproductive. The April rallies seemed to have energized the anti-immigrant movement, but I disagree with Mark Krikorian, who is quoted in the Washington Post today, saying quite confidently, “The attempt to recreate the atmosphere in the spring has completely failed because the illegal aliens and their supporters have gotten the message that the American people aren’t going to roll over for this amnesty bill.” It’s a fantasy to think that this issue is settled, or that citizens would be “rolling over” to support immigration reform. What is obvious is that there is not consensus about what to do about immigration at the moment. It’s election season, and Republicans are fighting for their seats. They realize that they cannot win their elections taking a stand on immigration, so they’ve tabled it. That fact alone makes it clear that the issue is far from settled.