Monday, June 4, 2007

Republican lawmakers say they were inundated by opposition to the current immigration proposal during their congressional recess while visiting with constituents and attending hometown events.

“This is the most phone calls I’ve gotten since the Dubai ports deal,” said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, referring to the national security uproar that derailed a United Arab Emirates-based company’s 2006 effort to take over port operations in six major U.S. cities, including New York.

“I attended two Memorial Day parades last Monday,” he said. “I assume all the veterans coming up to talk to me would be about Iraq. But they wanted to talk about immigration. These are very middle-of-the-road, mainstream people that are coming up to me, not the ‘Pat Buchanan types.’ I can just tell, most of these people don’t belong to organizations and have never contacted a congressman before.”

Mr. King’s experience was echoed by several other Republican lawmakers who spoke with The Washington Times during last week’s congressional recess.

A Rasmussen Report poll released last week found only 16 percent of respondents thought illegal entries would decline if the bill passed, while 74 percent disagreed. Of the latter, 41 percent said the legislation would cause illegal entries to increase.

“Not one person who I spoke with was for the Senate amnesty bill,” said Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican. “They are worried about their childrens’ jobs, who is going to pay for this and security. Those are the concerns.”

Rep. Steve King’s office said he participated in a “tele-town hall” with constituents and that a “significant majority” of participants were expressing opposition to the current Senate immigration bill.

“There’s been an overwhelming response back in the district,” the Iowa Republican said.

Among the most active campaigns against the measure is that of NumbersUSA, which saw its membership jump by 10,000 when the compromise was announced.

“There’s a level of anger here that you don’t see with most issues,” said spokeswoman Caroline Espinosa.

Her organization’s members sent 751,000 faxes in May, she said. The top five recipients are Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican; Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat; Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican; Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat; and Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican.

Meanwhile, the fractious debate in Congress may come as a relief to Republican Sen. Jon Kyl after a week spent defending the proposed immigration compromise back home in Arizona.

His Phoenix and Tucson offices were picketed by anti-amnesty demonstrators demanding his resignation and received thousands of phone calls against the compromise legislation. The Phoenix-based Mothers Against Illegal Immigrants announced a recall effort against Mr. Kyl and fellow Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain. Even the chairman of the state Republican Party blasted the compromise.

Still, Mr. Kyl, the compromise bill’s leading Republican proponent, didn’t flinch, plugging away in the proposal’s defense in meetings with opposition groups, interviews with editorial boards and heated exchanges with radio talk-show hosts.

“At the fringe, there are some folks who should remember what their mother told them on how to act,” Mr. Kyl told the editorial board of the Arizona Republic.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, was booed last week at the state party convention for his role in writing the proposal, while fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint received cheers for his opposition. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Georgia Republican who helped negotiate the compromise, was also met with boos last week when he addressed delegates to the state party convention.

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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