Immigration Activists Plan Grassroots Push During Congressional Summer Recess

Activists on both sides of the immigration reform debate plan to take their mission to persuade Congress to go along with their views to the lawmakers’ home turves during the summer recess.

Advocates for an immigration reform law that would include a path to legal status for many of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants plan to zero in on more than 100 House Republicans, many of whom refuse to endorse what they consider amnesty.

The advocacy grassroots effort includes unlikely alliances such as liberal groups and conservative ones all favoring a way to bring undocumented immigrants who meet a strict set of criteria out of the shadows.

The basic goal of legal pathway proponents is to rally the lawmakers’ constituents around legalizing the undocumented, and in turn make it difficult for the most reluctant members of Congress to continue to oppose it.

“The immigration system is broken and Americans want Congress to find a real solution through a step-by-step methodical approach,” said Brian O. Walsh, president of the American Action Network, which announced Wednesday the launching of the Conservative Immigration Support Network. “The Conservative Immigration Support Network will deliver important an important message to Congress this August to continue their work on conservative immigration reform.”

AAN said this August initiative will include a $250,000 program "engaging key local leaders, mobilizing our existing grassroots network, and releasing district-by-district studies on the economic impact of immigration reform.”

The Republicans in the House of Representatives, who have the majority, are debating how to move forward with immigration legislation after the Senate passed a comprehensive bill in June with visa reforms, border security and eventual citizenship for the immigrants already in the country illegally.

No action is expected in the House until fall, at which point Republicans may advance a piecemeal series of single-issue bills beginning with border security. The potential for the House to reach any agreement with the Senate on a final package that could reach President Barack Obama's desk is very much in doubt.

Charles Spies of Republicans for Immigration Reform is quoted in POLITICO as saying that in the last attempt to pass immigration reform – in 2007, under the George W. Bush administration – those who opposed a pathway to legal status dominated the discussions in the lawmakers’ districts.

“For our conservative base, the month of August is very important to provide accurate information about the need for comprehensive reform,” Spies said. “[In 2007] there was no grassroots effort and a loud minority that opposes reform controlled the dialogue. This time, proponents of reform are not going to be caught off-guard.”

On Wednesday, liberal groups such as labor unions, and the National Council of La Raza unveiled their blueprint for building momentum in the lawmakers’ districts, including staging hundreds of events during August.

Those who oppose a path to legal status are busy planning counter-efforts.

NumbersUSA, which was instrumental in helping defeat the 2007 immigration reform effort, is organizing August recess rallies and mobilizing anti-legalization activists.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, another major organization that favors strict immigration policies, plans to get activists to swarm town hall meetings that the lawmakers hold and keep beating the drum for a tough approach to immigration.

“Obviously, there is a great deal of money being poured in to this by the people who want to pass amnesty,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for FAIR, in a POLITICO story. “As things begin to heat up in the House, we’ll probably consider ads based on where we believe the need is.”

Beyond the face-to-face grassroots campaign in their districts, members of Congress are getting letters from groups that hope to persuade them one way or another.

Earlier this week, hundreds of leading business groups and GOP donors called for action on immigration legislation, seeking to increase pressure on the House GOP as lawmakers prepare to leave Washington for their summer recess.

Two letters were released separately, one signed by more than 400 leading businesses, chambers of commerce and others, and the second by around 100 GOP donors, including boldface names such as former Vice President Dan Quayle and GOP strategist Karl Rove.

In addition, more than 270 Texas and Arizona business leaders signed letters sent Tuesday to their congressional representatives, including two influential members of the House Judiciary Committee, urging them to support a temporary worker program for less skilled immigrants.

“There’s no mistaking the message here,” said Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, which worked with state groups to coordinate the letters. “Employers in an array of sectors count on less skilled immigrants as a vital part of their labor force, and they want a way to hire them legally when there are no willing and able Americans.”

The Texas letter was signed by 187 employers and business associations from the Texas Association of Business and the Texas Restaurant Association to small, family-owned construction and landscaping companies. It was sent to Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas.

“The heart of reform is fixing the legal immigration system so it works for America in the future, admitting the immigrants we need and preventing future illegal immigration,” the Texas letter said. “We urge you to help deliver legislation that provides the workforce Texas employers need to keep their businesses open and contributing to the economy.”