• Groups ramp up efforts on illegal immigration debate

    November 1, 2013, Vista, California, USA_| Pro-Immigration protesters rally in front of the building where Congressman Darrell Issa's office is located.| Credit: UT San Diego/Copyright 2013 San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC Share Photo

    As the debate over immigration reform heats up again in Congress, activists on both sides of the issue are escalating their outreach as well.

    Phone calls. Letters. Visits. Marches. Rallies. Social media.

    These are the hallmark tools that civic activists have employed to try to influence the debate, whether they seek a pathway to U.S. citizenship for unauthorized immigrants or want to beef up border security instead.

    6:27 p.m.Nov. 1, 2013
    By Elizabeth Aguilera

    This week alone, there were dueling rallies in front of the Vista office of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, on back-to-back days.

    On Thursday, the San Diegans for Secure Borders Coalition and the Vista Tea Party Patriots held court against Issa’s proposed plan to offer six-year temporary visas to the unauthorized who are living in the United States. Some held signs calling for him to resign.

    On Friday, the pro-citizenship forces gathered there to urge Issa to support a plan that includes a naturalization component instead of temporary status. The San Diego Organization Project, a network of 35 churches whose members are urged to engage in civic action, hosted the event.

    October 31, 2013, Vista, California, USA_| Anti-Immigration protesters assemble in front of the building where Congressman Darrell Issa's office is located. Speaking is rally organizer Jeff Schwilk.| Credit: UT San Diego/Copyright 2013 San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC

    Both groups were able to meet with a staff member after their events.

    These rallies are part of national efforts that include activists lobbying in Washington, D.C., holding prayer meetings, conducting town hall forums and pursuing other grassroots strategies to highlight their views.

    Fervor over immigration reform has peaked and valleyed over the decades.

    This year has seen the debate take off, especially in anticipation of the bipartisan plan that was approved by the Senate in July. That plan, which would offer a path to citizenship and spend billions to boost security along the nation’s borders, is languishing in the House. Leaders in the Republican-dominated House prefer to introduce an assortment of smaller immigration bills or table the discussion altogether.

    After last month’s government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis, President Barack Obama and others pushed for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform by year’s end. Those calls spurred activists to rev up their campaigns.

    What exactly is the impact of these impassioned people’s actions, and do their efforts matter?

    Activists on both sides say yes. They said the momentum is moving in their direction and they hope for ultimate success — if not this year, then maybe the next.

    November 1, 2013, Vista, California, USA_| At a pro-immigration rally in front of the building where Congressman Darrell Issa's is located Reverend Dr. Jonathan Mitchell leads a prayer for immigrants who died trying to enter the U.S.| Credit: UT San Diego/Copyright 2013 San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC Share Photo

    Political experts said that on their own, such actions do little to change elected officials’ positions. Yet when coupled with changing voter demographics, polls that indicate certain voter preferences and other factors that might impact re-election odds, the grassroots campaigns could contribute to an the political landscape.

    “Policymakers are trying to get a sense of the national mood, trying to determine if there is a window of opportunity for a policy to pass, asking if this is the moment?” said Kristen Hill Maher, associate professor of political science at San Diego State University. “These things do matter because how else are you going to weigh the mood?”

    Civic participation that results in loads of written cards or letters, thousands of phone calls and rallies televised on news media may give leaders crucial information about whether the time is ripe to champion a particular bill.

    More importantly, the political analysts said, such public engagement is part of the bedrock for a healthy democracy.

    “Wild, unregulated stuff creates a lot of variety, entertainment and a lot of fun,” said Richard Hofstetter, professor emeritus of political science and adjunct professor in the graduate school of public health at San Diego State University. “In the long run, those actions support the democratic principles and traditions of our country.”

    Many legislators on Capitol Hill, including most of the House delegation from San Diego County, have stayed low-key on the issue of immigration reform.

    Issa is generating attention here and across the nation because of his plan to pitch a temporary visa for qualified unauthorized immigrants. Neither side is happy with his proposal.

    For Jeff Schwilk, of — who has spent years working on immigration issues, first as cofounder of the Minutemen group and most recently as cofounder of the San Diegans for Secure Borders Coalition, Issa’s pitch is an affront to the Coalitions views.

    “It’s because he has been solid on illegal immigration for many years,” Schwilk said. “This is considered a flip-flopping, a major change in direction, and people thinks it’s a betrayal of his principles and our principles.”

    The coalition’s affiliated groups — from Tea Party members to taxpayer groups — focus on strengthening border security and toughening sanctions against employers who hire the unauthorized. They said questions about how to deal with the nation’s unauthorized population should be addressed only after immigration enforcement has been maximized.

    October 31, 2013, Vista, California, USA_| At the door of Congressman Darrell Issa's office a group of anti-immigration protesters listen to a Issa staff member as they wait to enter to present anti-immigration petitions and voice their opinions. they've had for him. Close at left holding American flags is Susan Coker. Issa was not there.| Credit: UT San Diego/Copyright 2013 San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC Share Photo

    The coalition closely follows elected officials on immigration issues. When it believes a leader has swayed off course, the coalition and its allies swiftly reach out to that person.

    For example, when Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, signed a letter in support of comprehensive immigration reform, the coalition protested his participation because the assemblyman had said he would not do so when he ran for office. In addition, the coalition groups organizes members to attend town hall meetings with officials to express their views about immigration and occassionally (sic) hosts speakers on the issue for members.

    “We are here as watchdogs,” Schwilk said.

    On Friday, the San Diego Organizing Project, which helps 35 churches work on social issues, and its members also disagreed with Issa’s plan. Instead of a temporary status, the group is pushing for a pathway to citizenship.

    So far this year the congregants have organized a rally at Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside that attracted 2,000 people; hosted a 30-day storytelling campaign that involved one person going to Issa’s office each day in that period to share a personal testament; and a door-to-door canvass that resulted in the collection of 3,000 cards signed by registered voters in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

    Erubey Lopez, an immigration attorney in Vista, has been working on immigration since he was in college more than a decade ago. Now involved with the Justice for Immigrants ministry at Saint Francis Church he is pushing for a pathway to citizenship.

    “When you live in Vista you see so many people who have talent and a lot of dreams and they can’t move forward because of status,” he said. “We are very frustrated but at this point we know there is no turning back.”

    If nothing changes the immigrant advocates plan to push the executive branch for more allowances and a moratorium on deportations, Lopez said.

    “It is going to happen, maybe not this month, but the public opinion has changed. People support it,” he said. “We are going to continue to work hard, organizing makes a difference.”

    Such convictions motivate people to become activists and with each action or event that energy grows, said professor emeritus Hofstetter, and that is what is important. Even if voter turnout is low, non-electoral political participation is high – neighborhood groups, interest groups, cause-driven groups and that is representative of the American way of civic activity.

    “It’s part of your citizenship and identity with a country,” Hofstetter said.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Groups ramp up efforts on immigration debate started by ALIPAC View original post