House Republicans may not pass an immigration bill before the end of the year, but that doesn't mean the reform effort is dead. The August recess provides immigration-reform activists the opportunity to mobilize support from their activists. Several pro-immigration groups are already preparing to target dozens of House Republicans who may be amenable to some form of legislation providing citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Voters tend to be more favorable to a comprehensive immigration approach advocated by Democrats and the Senate. (See the recent United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll as one example of this.)
But the general public also doesn't care about immigration nearly as much as they do about health care, job creation, or the economy.
The districts where lobbying campaigns make the most sense are in areas where a sizable percentage of the voters are Hispanic. One such Republican is Rep. Gary Miller of California, who has a voting Asian and Hispanic population of 38 percent, according to Lizette Escobedo, the national director of development and communications for the Latino group Mi Familia Vota. Miller is one of the targets this month of groups seeking a pledge to support immigration reform. Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., are also on that list.
Mi Familia Vota was preparing to put pressure on Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., this week in his district when he surprised them last Friday by coming out in favor of a path to citizenship in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. "We were launching a heavy campaign in his district," said Escobedo. "We'll go ahead with all the things that were planned, but it's more so now an era of, 'We're happy you're supporting!' "
The campaign tactics deployed by Mi Familia Vota include phone canvassing, door-to-door constituent visits, and visits to local businesses. Canvassers ask businesses and individuals to publicly request a comprehensive immigration fix from their representative that includes a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants. If the canvassers are visiting businesses, they take pictures of the business owners with graphics displaying the value of immigration reform. Then they use Twitter and Facebook to distribute the photos among their volunteers, many of whom are young and Web savvy.
Even for young and energetic activists, picking off one Republican congressman at a time is arduous work. It can only be successful in places where immigration is already a hot (or at least warm) topic. Door-to-door canvassing is not likely going to change the skepticism about immigration among the entire House GOP caucus.
National Immigration Forum Executive Director Ali Noorani says that the pro-immigration conservative coalition Bibles, Badges, and Business has some 2,000 opinion leaders in many of the Republican districts that are on hand to go to town halls and ask members about immigration reform. That alone makes a difference for some members, who may decide after getting peppered with questions that they can't ignore the issue.
Noorani acknowledged that House Republicans probably won't come away from August with different opinions than the ones they hold now. Most Republicans are highly uncomfortable with giving unauthorized immigrants a path to citizenship and want border security and enforcement boosted first.
But it will take more than House inaction to kill the immigration-reform effort that received a jolt of momentum after the Senate passed a wide-ranging bill in June. In 2006, when the Senate passed a similar immigration bill, House Republicans rebelled and staged a series of hearings during August to decry the bill. The next year, the Senate took up immigration reform again. It wasn't until that legislation died in the Senate in the summer of 2007 that the House opponents could rest easy. This year, Republicans are still concerned about alienating Hispanic voters, who overwhelmingly voted Democratic in 2012, in the next presidential election.
"The most credible information I've heard is that they want to find out in August what people think," Noorani said. "If they come out of August saying, 'That was a wash,' we win."
This article appears in the August 7, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.