Four days ago, President Obama ordered that an immigration policy not agreed to by Congress be enacted, deferring deportation for certain young illegal immigrants and single-handedly jacking the immigration issue up to its highest position on voters’ radar since 2006.
Six years ago, the controversy over how to handle millions of illegal immigrants had hit the boiling point of controversy. Minutemen watch groups deployed along porous desert regions on America’s southern border. Tens of thousands were spilling into the streets of American cities to protest H.R. 4437 – the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, passed by the House 239-182 on Dec. 16, 2005, but later killed in the Senate.
Covering those protests back then in Southern California, I remember standing within a crowd of demonstrators after Maywood was declared a sanctuary city, seeing the signs and hearing the chants decrying Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).
“Who is Sensenbrenner?” a woman near me asked. The people around her shrugged.
“They turned into a ‘hate Jim Sensenbrenner rally,’” the congressman said of the massive spring protests — demonstrations that quickly petered out by fall.
Talking to PJM today, Sensenbrenner recalled how Cardinal Roger Mahony whipped up a frenzy among Hispanics in L.A. and propelled the protests.
“I was very disappointed in the cardinal’s actions on that, that he ended up becoming an advocate for illegal immigrants,” Sensenbrenner said. “Personal attacks that went on during that period of time really were not conducive to getting anything done.”
The famous legislation comprehensively dealt with everything from ending a “catch and release” enforcement policy to tightening deportation rules, verifying workers’ eligibility status, and prohibiting aid to illegal immigrants.
Another hallmark of the demonstrations was how they morphed into something beyond their original intent. When many families showed up for what they thought was simply a pro-immigrant rally, they were handed copies of The Socialist Worker or greeted by signs promoting the reconquista of Aztlan.
“Definitely it spun out into something,” the congressman said. “Mahony and organizers ended up losing control of it. That ended up hurting the cause of solving the problem.”
But Sensenbrenner sees one powerful lasting effect of H.R. 4437, what he called “probably the last great chance to get some kind of immigration reform that did not include amnesty.”
“The American public spoke loud and clear in reaction to the protests,” he said, and though still strong supporters of legal immigration Americans continue to indicate that “they would not support immigration reform that included amnesty.”