California Sen. Dianne Feinstein says the public emotion surging around efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration policy is the greatest she has seen since her 1992 election.
The Democrat said the topic hasn’t translated into the 30,000-plus phone calls to her office that would mean “something is really going on” in the nations most populous state, but the enthusiasm of opinion is fervent.
“We’re dealing with an issue about which people have very strong, very deeply set views,” Mrs. Feinstein said.
She said most of the nearly 8,000 calls her office has fielded have been “very hostile and very negative” despite polls that show up to 80 percent of Californians support legalizing “undocumented workers.”
From the Western border states to the heartland and the East Coast, lawmakers are being flooded with constituent calls as the Senate considers mechanisms for granting citizenship to 12 million illegal aliens and how to improve both border security and the nations guest-worker program.
The office of Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, says it has received several thousand calls, with the majority opposing the bill as “amnesty” for aliens who entered the country illegally. Nearly all 5,000 calls to Mr. Isakson’s office were against the plan.
“We’re still getting calls on other topics, such as Iraq, gas prices and hate crimes, but these topics are generating less than a dozen calls each per day,” said Isakson spokeswoman Joan Kirchner.
A staffer for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, says: “The phones have been off the hook.”
The pressure on legislators mounted immediately after a bipartisan group of senators announced their immigration intentions last week, and lawmakers expect to get an earful when they get home for the Memorial Day recess this weekend.
Interest groups on both sides of the debate mobilized quickly and are ramping up for a legislative battle that will last several more weeks.
“Now that this agreement has left the back room and is subject to the legislative process, we believe we will have opportunities to improve it in both the Senate and the House,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a Hispanic rights group.
It’s not just the overall bill that’s drawing the calls. Yesterday, NCLR sent out an alert asking supporters to lobby their senators against two amendments that would tighten the bill and for another amendment that would expand family immigration.
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and an architect of the legislation, said he has taken a political hit from his border-state constituents.
However, he said, “if you’ve always got your finger up in the air measuring the partisan politics, you’re not going to get anything done.”
Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, acknowledged that most Republicans oppose the bill in its current form, but said its not a huge topic in his home state.
“People in my state have a little different attitude toward immigrants because they’ve been saving our skin” by providing inexpensive labor for post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction, he said.