Reporting in from London

London - Am over in London to check in on the latest in politics here, and give some talks on American politics.  I will be offering up a few reports from here over the next few days, and will start with this one now:

- Recent polls show the Tory leader David Cameron dropping, and Labour leader Gordon Brown gaining.  With the general election campaign likely to start in the next few weeks, there is a growing chance that Labour might hold on and repel the Cameron and Tory assault of recent years.   This is going to be an incredible campaign, featuring among other things, the first set of televised debates between the major party candidates in British electoral history.  

- Excited that the White House held a series of meetings on immigration reform yesterday, and continue to show interest in moving it despite a very crowded agenda.  An upcoming march for immigration reform is forcing DC political leaders to not forget about the need to deal with our broken immigration system as soon as possible. 

One troubling rhetorical change we've picked up in recent months from some involved in this debate is the changing language around undocumented immigrants.  What we've all fought for in recent years is granting immediate legal status and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, once they have paid a fine, gone to the back of the line, commit to learn English and undergo a background check.  But what we've seen from some leaders recently is an argument that we must offer a "change in status" to the undocumenteds, or to "legalize them," dropping the rhetorical commitment to citizenship.

Language matters in politics.  You need to say what you mean, and mean what you say.   If we are going to offer citizenship then it is better to say it, build the case for it, for if it is in the bill it is going to be vigerously debated.  And it is better to start the debate making the case for your ideas then somehow believing you can duck a tough part or part you don't like, or come to the proposal defensively late in the game.

Additionally, right now a set of strong voices are challenging the idea of keeping a provision of the old McCain-Kennedy bill which would allow for 200,000 visas a year for low-end workers.  The argument behind their opposition is that by creating a pool of "guest workers" we will be driving down wages of people at the low end of the workforce, and create a pool of workers capable of unfair exploitation.   Their argument is, essentially, that there should be no guest worker programs in the US, it is inconsistent with good economics and American values, and that this provision needs to be dropped from a final bill.

If I were among those who agreed with this argument then I would be very concerned that the strategic drop of the phrase "path to citizenship" is leaving open the possibility that the 11 mllion undocumenteds could during the course of the legislative compromises ahead become legal without citizenship, creating a guest worker pool of not 200,000 but 11 mlllion people. And for those who have fought hard for CIR for many years - as we at NDN have - the idea that there is rhetorical retreat on this core provision should be greeted with much greater outrage than it has.

Dropping the phrase "path to citizenship" is both bad politics and bad economics.  Advocates for reform will have to make their case to the American people why we want to do more than offer legalization.  The public will be with the reformers on this one, as polling data and coming sense dictate that the American people would never accept a guest worker program of 11 million people.  It is inconsistent with our values and terribly economics.  Those advocating for a path to citizenship are on very strong economic and political ground, and should not in any way retreat from this part of this important debate even before it has begun in earnest.

There simply is no constituency in America for a "path to legalization" and it should be rhetorically scrapped as soon as possible.