Immigration Reform 2013: Why Did the Media Ignore Yesterday's Rallies?


When Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) visited Harrisburg, Pa., Monday to headline a political event for Congressman Scott Perry (R), he was greeted by more than the usual crowd of GOP well-wishers. As a crowd of protesters supporting Obama's immigration reform policy assembled outside Metro Bank Park, they could be heard chanting "Serve the needy, not the greedy" and "Move Boehner, get out of the way. You're not welcome in PA."

This event, though spontaneous, did not occur in isolation. Hundreds of events took place throughout the nation Monday to rally support for Obama's immigration reform legislation, including 10 in Pennsylvania alone. As a resident of the Keystone State myself, I made a point of participating in one such activity, a small phone banking effort to try to persuade residents of the 15th congressional district to contact our representative, moderate Republican Charlie Dent, and solicit his support for the bill.

There are two reasons why this story deserves attention. The first, and most obvious, is that the measures put forward by Obama and the Senate "Gang of Eight," though differing in important particulars, are both built upon the same fundamental (and integral) policy foundations. Operating as they do on the premise that there are four pillars to meaningful immigration reform (strengthening border security, modernizing our legal system, demanding employer accountability, and providing a pathway to citizenship for residing illegal immigrants) any bill comparable to those proposed would mark a historic shift in our nation's immigration policy, akin to the Immigration Act of 1924 (which applied quotas to immigration from nations whose inhabitants were considered undesirable for racial reasons), the Hart-Cellar Act of 1965 (which removed the 1924 quotas while restricting Mexican immigration), or the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (which granted a pathway to citizenship to some illegal immigrants while making it a crime to hire them).

Just as important, however, is that a nationwide effort took place to promote these reforms ... and the media paid scant attention.

The mind wanders back a few years, when the Koch brothers were funding Tea Party movements throughout the nation to undermine various aspects of Obama's policy agenda and the press corps lapped it up. Now it's an Obama group, Organize for Action (OFA), that is orchestrating the grassroots movement (and to its credit, it is open about its involvement, unlike the Brothers Koch), but while its participants are just authentic as the Tea Partiers of yesteryear, the so-called "liberal media" barely noticed.

There are several reasons why this may be the case. For one thing, politics isn't the hot topic now that it was a few years ago; for any multitude of reasons, immigration reform and climate change aren't grabbing the public attention as did health care reform back in 2009 and 2010. What's more, anti-incumbent movements always have more cache than those which support a given presidential administration, regardless of whether the "oppositional" cause is any more authentic in its genesis than those supporting the ostensible establishment. Finally, there is the unfortunate reality that news organizations prefer stories with spice: Because the OFA events did not involve over-the-top emotions or veiled threats of violence, they were simply not as marketable.

Regardless of the reason, though, the fact that this day of action occurred at all deserves greater public attention. If one is going to argue that the Tea Party provided a voice for one side in our current political debate (the origin of that voice notwithstanding), then it is hard to dispute that the activities of OFA on immigration reform provide an equally compelling platform for a point-of-view that should receive real attention. The people who are volunteering their time and energy to help Obama fulfill the promises that got him reelected last year are acting because they care just as passionately as their conservative counterparts. As long as the media continues to neglect them, they are going to be depriving our nation of the full story about the political debate that continues to rage on — and, for progressives, of an important outlet that is available to them to exercise their political agency.