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Wolf at the door: Immigrant rights issue follows lawmakers home

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Five dozen immigration rights activists picketed outside Rep. Frank R. Wolf's Herndon office Wednesday, demanding he vote for a bill that would extend citizenship rights to 11 million illegal immigrants — a scene that is being repeated outside countless Republican congressional district offices this summer.

With chances for a bill seemingly slipping in Washington, the activists have vowed to take their fight to lawmakers at home during the congressional recess. They have vowed to hold meetings, stage protest marches and make themselves heard by lawmakers and the voters who elected them.

As activists exert external pressure, proponents inside the Beltway try to negotiate tricky legislative roadblocks. In a major concession Wednesday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who wrote the broad Senate legalization bill, said he is willing to accept House Republicans' strategy to split the issue into pieces.

"We would much prefer a big comprehensive bill, but any way that the House can get there is OK by us," he told CNN, though he also said one of the components must be a specific path to citizenship for current illegal immigrants, which has proved to be a sticking point for many House Republicans.

Mr. Wolf, a 17-term Republican from Northern Virginia, said citizenship is a nonstarter for him, just as it was in 1986 when he bucked President Reagan and voted against amnesty for illegal immigrants.

"If there's amnesty leading to citizenship, I'm going to vote against it again," Mr. Wolf told The Washington Times in a telephone interview.

Mr. Wolf told The Times he has met with immigrant rights groups several times and has more meetings planned, and said he is ready to listen. But he also said he won't be intimidated into voting against his principles.

"When members of Congress can really be intimidated on how they vote, the whole thing has changed," he said.

Immigration rights advocates have vowed to make lawmakers feel political heat back home this summer. More than 40 activists were arrested for blocking Independence Avenue outside Congress last week, and the protests continued in districts across the country.

This weekend, activists will rally in Colorado to pressure Republican Reps. Scott R. Tipton, Mike Coffman and Cory Gardner to back citizenship.

Next week, California activists will launch what they expect to be a caravan of 1,100 cars from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles to Bakersfield to pressure House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, the third-ranking Republican in the House.

In one colorful move, activists are delivering cantaloupes to House Republicans' offices as a way of striking back after Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said that for every top-student illegal immigrant, "there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds, and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."

The pressure back home is forcing lawmakers to take a stand.

In Florida, Rep. Daniel Webster told the Orlando Sentinel that he will support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants only after the Border Patrol can show it is stopping at least 90 percent of those trying to enter the U.S. illegally. He also wants to empower state and local authorities to help with immigration enforcement, the Sentinel said.

In Illinois, Rep. Aaron Schock said at a recent town hall that he supports a path to citizenship but only after conditions are met, such as a secure border. He also said illegal immigrants would have to pay back taxes and must have a clean criminal record, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mr. Wolf said that in addition to rejecting citizenship, other objectives must be met for him to vote for a bill, including control of the borders. He said voters have little faith that the Homeland Security Department can do protect the border, so he would want independent observers, such as Southwestern governors, to be part of the certification process.

All those approaches are at odds with the massive bill that the Senate passed in June on a 68-32 vote. It grants eventual citizenship rights to most illegal immigrants, requires more money to be spent on border security and rewrites the legal immigration system to let in more guest workers and employment-based immigrants.

House Republicans have declared that bill dead. Instead, GOP leaders have signaled they that they would take up pieces of the issue, including border security, interior enforcement, guest-worker programs and at least one legalization bill that would apply to so-called Dreamers, the illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors by their parents and carry the most sympathy in the debate.

Activists say that if the House doesn't pass broad legalization, Republicans will be labeled anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. Luis Aguilar, an activist with Casa en Action who was protesting outside Mr. Wolf's suburban office, said citizenship is not negotiable.

"In my case, I've been here 15 years. There are people who've been here over 20 years," said Mr. Aguilar, 25, one of those who got tentative legal status under President Obama's non-deportation policy for young illegal immigrants. "We won't stand for anything other than citizenship."

The five dozen activists who marched alongside him chanted slogans mostly in Spanish, though the signs they held were mostly in English.

"Wolf, escucha, estamos en la lucha," they chanted, which translates roughly as "Wolf, listen up, we are in the struggle."

Among the signs was one posing the political question "GOP — RIP? The choice is yours."

"The demographics are changing in this district," Mr. Aguilar said of Mr. Wolf's seat, which stretches from the inner Washington suburbs to West Virginia. "He should be aware that he cannot continue with the same voting patterns."

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