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Pro-immigration groups ready to fight
The coalition kicked off its drive last summer with an event at the National Press Club, attended by religious leaders, labor leaders and ethnic rights groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, was not there, and it’s not clear how supportive it will be this time.
The Chamber of Commerce didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Last month, the first major bill was introduced by Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, and 92 other House members. That bill included a multistep path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, did not include a guest-worker program for future workers and left out several of the penalties that previous bills included for illegal immigrants.
Even Republicans who have worked with Mr. Gutierrez said this bill was a non-starter.
Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is working on a Senate version aimed at garnering bipartisan support.
One hurdle will be grass-roots opposition. In 2007, millions of phone calls, e-mails and faxes from constituents to lawmakers overwhelmed the Senate switchboard. The outpouring was stoked by talk radio and groups such as NumbersUSA, a grass-roots organization that wants an immigration crackdown.
Immigrant rights groups have spent considerable time and money trying to rebut talk-radio hosts and groups such as NumbersUSA. Mr. Medina said last year’s departure from CNN of anchor Lou Dobbs, an outspoken supporter of stronger immigration enforcement, was a critical victory.
“With Mr. Dobbs finally being called to account, I think that’s also sent a message to many of these people,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think in the last two years that this debate has moved much much further in terms of the American people’s understanding.”
Religious groups make up a key component of the coalition. Last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said it had distributed 1.5 million postcards to churches to have parishioners send to members of Congress.
But a poll released last month suggests that church leaders are out of step with those in their pews. The Zogby poll, conducted for the Center for Immigration Studies, found that 64 percent of self-identified Catholics said they supported enforcement to encourage illegal immigrants to return home. Just 23 percent said they supported legalization of illegal immigrants.
The poll found similar numbers among other religions. Protestants tended to be slightly more in favor of enforcement than Catholics, and Jewish respondents split about evenly between enforcement and legalization.
Mr. Camarota said the two sides of the Catholic divide are choosing different areas of emphasis.
“The bishops feel a very strong sense of compassion for illegal immigrants here and people who want to come to America. It seems Catholic parishioners, on the other hand, feel a very strong sense of compassion for low-wage American workers who face job competition,” he said.
Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the USCCB, said the worker argument is not persuasive and the process needs to begin now.
“Any legislation that’s drafted is not going to go into effect for a while, and it would be in anticipation of returning to economic health that we’re going to need workers,” he said.
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