Unusual Items Highlight Immigration Debate in Congress

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For $11.95, you can mail a brand-new brick to a member of Congress. For only a few dollars more, you can ship a work glove.

Which one you send depends on where you fall in the immigration reform debate.

Bricks represent the side of the immigration debate pushing for a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border; work gloves serve as a reminder of the contributions immigrant labor has made to the country.

The items are examples of some of the many symbols citizens can send to Washington lawmakers in an effort to sway their position on a host of issues.

“Groups are forever coming up with mass mailings to Congress,” said Don Ritchie, associate historian of the Senate. “Members get things by the ton.”

“It’s definitely an attention-getting motive,” said DeeAnn Thigpen, a spokeswoman for Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who received about two-dozen of the bricks. “This is just a catchy new way to get Congress’ attention.”

“It’s clever, never seen before and made them take notice,” said Kirsten Heffron, a spokeswoman for the Send-a-Brick Project. Heffron said the group isn't just about weighing down the postman. They also want to join others in anti-illegal immigration protests.

More than 12,000 bricks have been ordered, according to the group's Web site. The office of the Senate Sergeant of Arms said Senate members have received about 8,300 bricks. The House did not have numbers to release.

The Send-a-Workglove project, started in response to the brick project, charges $14.95 to ship a workglove to a member of Congress.

“There’s more impact than just a letter,” said Adam Rothwell, a partner in the Baltimore-based Immigration Law Center, which headed up the project. “When people think of a brick, they don’t think of a wall. When people think of a work glove, they think of all the jobs that you can do physically that require effort and work. Immigrants do all that work.”

Rothwell said the group supports the Senate version of the immigration legislation because it offers more help to immigrants than under the current system or in the competing House bill. More than 500 gloves have been ordered and Rothwell said he expects those numbers to climb.

Bricks and gloves aren’t the only unusual items that lawmakers receive. Handwritten letters, Bibles, roses delivered on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v Wade abortion rights decision, and other personalized items also make their way into congressional offices.

"Every Senate office gets these sorts of things," said Maria Najera, a spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

Big-ticket issues draw more mail than usual to Bingaman's office, Najera said.

"Whenever there is a controversial issue on the (Senate) floor, our mail volume goes up," Najera said. Bingaman's office has received about two-dozen bricks, she said.

Najera said bricks make a statement, but a handwritten letter from a constituent can have more impact on a lawmaker.

"Sending a brick, it's very symbolic, but a handwritten letter would do so much more," she said.

Mail isn't the only creative way to get a message across. Advocacy groups have come up with several spectacles to draw attention to their causes.

Supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for instance, take their animal-friendly causes directly to the Capitol steps by obtaining permits to lobby issues. At those demonstrations, PETA members have dressed up in pig and bunny costumes, covered with fake blood, to promote animal-friendly legislation.

"They do work and they do get lawmakers' attention," said Bruce Friedrich, vice president for PETA's international grassroots campaign. He added that in one protest, fake blood-dripping members covered with fur scraps protested against welfare for mink farmers. Congress ultimately threw out the legislation.

For those concerned that the items mailed to Capitol Hill go to waste, Senate officials assure that they are not.

The Senate side of the Capitol donated about 2,100 bricks to nonprofit organizations in the Washington, D.C.-area, said Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol's office.

Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Bingaman's Republican counterpart, donated most of the two-dozen bricks he received, said Chris Gallegos, a spokesman for the senator.

What may be wasted, however, is the effort. Despite the truckloads of bricks and work gloves that have arrived at the Capitol, legislation to address the issue of what to do with millions of illegal immigrants currently living in the United States is hung up in negotiations.

House and Senate lawmakers are trying to reconcile immigration reform bills that focus on border control and guest worker plans, respectively. The Senate passed its version of immigration reform on May 25. It offers a temporary guest worker program that opponents say amounts to amnesty.

The House version, passed last December, includes improvements in security, including construction of a long wall across parts of the southern border. Throughout the summer, members of both chambers have held field hearings and other events to win support for their positions.

A compromise has to be reached before President Bush can sign a bill into law to start addressing what to do with an estimated 12 million illegals in the United States.