- The Washington Times - Monday, April 26, 2010

They’ve pushed and pulled, marched on the national Mall and issued demands — including some to the president, which the White House hustled to meet — and now, immigrant rights groups find they’ve forced immigration and legalization to the top of the crowded congressional agenda.

The next test of their power will come Saturday, when the groups hope to turn out hundreds of thousands of supporters in rallies across the country, all demanding that Congress and Mr. Obama slow interior enforcement and move to legalize illegal immigrants.

“For us, what we’re clear at is that our elected officials don’t move out of courage,” said Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). “They move when there’s pressure from our community, and we actually demonstrate to them there’s impact on people’s lives.”

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When this year started, immigration was an afterthought issue, as Congress was facing high national unemployment, a huge deficit, an unfinished health care bill, and energy and financial regulation bills next in line.

But immigrant rights groups refused to accept that calculus and have cajoled and pushed their way into the discussion. Along the way, they’ve been helped by politics, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election bid in Nevada depending on tremendous Hispanic support.

The immigration movement is one of the two mass mobilizations in American politics now. The other is the “tea party” movement.

Since Friday, immigrants rights activists have been protesting in Phoenix, where the governor signed a bill into law that makes being an illegal immigrant a state offense.

Mr. Obama has criticized that law and said it shows why the federal government must act, but the groups say it’s time for him to do more than just call for action.

“The avalanche of actions that have happened recently are really a demonstration by the immigrant and Latino communities in this country,” said Gustavo Andrade, organizing director of CASA de Maryland, just days before Friday’s events. “What we’ve seen from coast to coast is they are incredibly dissatisfied by the lack of leadership from the Obama administration on immigration in particular.”

Unlike the tea party activists, these groups have Mr. Obama’s ear.

Last month, leaders walked into a meeting in the Oval Office, two weeks before a March 21 rally on the national Mall, and demanded the president halt deportations and push two senators to announce a legislative framework for a bill that he would then embrace.

A week after that meeting, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, announced the outline of an immigration deal. Mr. Obama immediately endorsed it, giving immigrant rights supporters a boost heading into that March rally, which organizers say drew 200,000 to Washington.

But action has since stalled, prompting the new set of demands, and accompanying rallies.

This time, backers still want deportations halted, but also want Mr. Graham and Mr. Schumer to introduce their legislation.

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