• Immigration amnesty groups turn to anger

    Advocates will begin confronting representatives at hearings and public events. | AP Photo

    Immigration reform advocates are done playing nice with House Republicans.

    After holding their fire for years at the urging of the Obama administration, several immigration reform groups now plan to unleash their anger at the right.

    A new, more aggressive campaign kicks off Tuesday, when these groups say they will begin confronting Republican lawmakers at public appearances, congressional hearings, and events back in home districts. The goal: shame Republicans in swing districts into taking up the issue — or make them pay at the ballot box in November.

    By ANNA PALMER and SEUNG MIN KIM | 2/10/14 10:46 PM EST

    It’s unclear if the strategy will truly damage Republicans with their constituents. Or worse, whether it might backfire and oust some of the movement’s best potential allies across the aisle.

    Still, the groups believe it’s time to try something new. The movement embraced a distinctly positive message when Barack Obama took office in 2009 and stuck with it publicly even until last month, when they applauded House Republican leaders for releasing a set of immigration reform principles at a GOP winter retreat.

    But things changed last week when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dashed hopes that a major immigration overhaul could happen this year — leaving immigration groups to say enough is enough.

    “Obviously persuasion only got us so far,” said Kica Matos, a spokeswoman for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement on Monday. “What we are now doing is to switch tactics from persuasion to punishment.”

    Matos declined to say which members of Congress are at risk for the in-your-face treatment, but warned that the campaign would be “relentless and constant.” America’s Voice and CASA in Action are also leading the effort. The plan for now is to engage in daily confrontations for at least the next two months, Matos said.

    The groups also plan to target House Republicans in swing districts with a wide section of Latino voters — even if they’ve expressed support for immigration reform before. That means lawmakers such as Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who has gone as far as to sign onto a Democratic-backed comprehensive bill, isn’t safe from the wrath of the pro-reform groups.

    The strategizing extends to their allies on Capitol Hill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra have been in talks with key advocacy groups such as America’s Voice, Alliance for Citizenship, and two powerful pro-reform labor unions – the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union – among other faith-based, Latino and Asian organizations. The focus of those conversations is to figure out how best to put pressure on House Republicans to move on immigration reform this year, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the talks.

    “We’re not going to go away,” added Kevin Appleby, the director of director of migration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The speaker’s comments were a reality check that we have to redouble our efforts. We need to translate the overwhelming support of the American public for this into public power, and I think it would be a mistake to let Congress – and especially the House – off the hook.”

    Another event being planned in the coming weeks and will most likely be held along the Arizona border from the Catholic bishops will highlight the dangers that immigrants face while crossing the U.S-Mexico boundary, Appleby said. That is meant to be a domestic version of Pope Francis’s first official trip outside Rome to Lampedusa, Italy, last summer – where the pope commemorated immigrants who tried to cross into Italy from North Africa.

    Appleby said the bishops will also being “focusing like a laser” on key House Republicans who are Catholic to see if they can persuade the lawmakers in favor of reform.

    There’s also a split in the pro-reform coalition over whether it would be wise for the Obama administration to use his executive discretion to defer deportations for a broader subset of undocumented immigrants in the United States – particularly those who would likely qualify for legalization.

    Some groups like the AFL-CIO and long-time reform advocate Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) have urged Obama to use his executive authority on deportations. So far, the White House has not threatened to take unilateral executive action, wanting to give House Republicans space to bring forward their own proposal.

    While this latest salvo will only increase the amount of pressure advocates put on the White House — taking any action could play into Republicans hands. GOP lawmakers have long used Obama not enforcing current immigration laws as a reason to stop any momentum on the issue. Some proponents, like Appleby, think that Obama taking unilateral action will kill chances of an immigration deal in Congress.

    Immigration reform proponents believe there is still a window for House Republicans to take up a package in May or June and that its time for business groups, the high tech industry and evangelicals to gin up pressure.

    “We’re just not going to take a press statement by John Boehner and say I guess it’s over,” said Frank Sharry of America’s Voice and a veteran of the reform movement. “It’s not for John Boehner to tell us when we are alive or dead.”

    Not everybody is throwing down the gauntlet against House Republicans yet.

    Several immigration reform lobbyists said their clients are reviewing what else can be done to try and force Republicans to take up the issue and discount arguments that the party should wait until 2015 to take up any legislation.

    “They’re evaluating a change in tactics,” said one lobbyist working the issue. “Discussions are happening everywhere.”

    National Immigration Forum’s Ali Noorani said they are “ignoring the national chatter and really making sure members of Congress are hearing from their constituents.”

    FWD.us, which recently did an ad supportive of House Republicans, has also not publicly changed its posture.

    Randy Johnson, the senior vice president for labor and immigration at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the issue of trust in the administration to execute laws “is not a new one.” In terms of the Chamber’s strategy on pushing immigration reform over the finish line this year, “we are proceeding as before,” Johnson said Monday.

    Other groups have already been engaged in mobilizing Latino voters to wield their influence in this year’s midterm elections and beyond.

    Building out their ground game in states like Nevada, California, central Florida, Colorado, among others, where there is a large Latino population and they can take out elected officials, is of particular focus for Mi Familia Vota.

    “I appreciate Valadao and Denham and others coming forward and being supportive. That is good, but not good enough,” said Mi Familia Vota executive director Ben Monterroso. “At the end of the day, they are the ones who elect who the leader is.”

    Monterroso said his group and others are focused on voter registration to grow the number of Latino voters. As the election nears, Monterroso said their campaign will include mailings, media ad buys and partnering with Spanish media to inform the Latino community.

    Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the director of immigration and national campaigns for National Council of La Raza, said the group has set out a goal of registering 250,000 new Latino voters in a wide-scale campaign launched last month with Mi Familia Vota. They are up to roughly 10,000 new voters registered in states such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and Oklahoma, Martinez said.

    “The leaders in the Republican Party know that they need immigration reform,” Martinez said Monday. Or “it will be irrelevant. What they do in the next 10 months is going to shape the political map for at least the next decade.
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