Wall Street Journal
By Miriam Jordan
May 28, 2013
Grass-roots activists were instrumental in derailing the previous attempt by Congress to overhaul immigration laws, in 2007. This time, they have yet to ignite a similar fire.
Coordinated rallies last week to oppose the current bipartisan immigration legislation drew sparse crowds, with fewer than 10 people showing up for a protest in Dover, Del. The number of phone calls to lawmakers' offices opposing the bill has been a fraction of what it was six years ago. As a discussion topic on conservative talk radio in recent weeks, immigration has ranked behind issues such as Syria-Israel tensions and President Barack Obama's speech on counterterrorism.
"This time I am getting this sense of resignation," said Rusty Childress, a veteran opponent of illegal immigration in Phoenix. "We have to awaken the sleeping giant."
The current immigration bill, introduced by a group of senators known as the "Gang of Eight," would provide a pathway to citizenship to about 11 million people illegally in the U.S. and create new work-visa programs. It also would require beefed-up border security and employment verification before steps to legalize undocumented immigrants could kick in.
Opponents of the bill say that, like the 2007 effort, it amounts to amnesty for law breakers and doesn't stanch the flow of illegal immigration. Adding legalized immigrants to the workforce would disadvantage jobless Americans, they say.
But this year's bill hasn't stirred as much opposition. It has more support from mainstream Republicans eager to improve the party's standing with the fast-growing Hispanic population, and from many evangelical Christian leaders. Also, a steep drop in illegal immigration in recent years has meant fewer television images of migrants sneaking into the country.
Even so, prospects for the bill's passage appear mixed. The Senate legislation hasn't yet been tested in that chamber, and efforts by a bipartisan House group to write a similarly broad bill haven't succeeded. The path to citizenship provision of the Senate bill could prove particularly troubling in the House.
Meantime, opponents promise to intensify their campaign. Mr. Childress leads "Remember 1986," a group named after the year of the last big immigration overhaul, signed by President Ronald Reagan. The group sponsored the coordinated rallies last week, many of which were dwarfed by larger protests the same day against the Internal Revenue Service over its scrutiny of conservative nonprofits. Mr. Childress said his group would start targeting a tea-party base that he said is "newly energized" since the IRS news broke.
A fierce backlash against the bill six years ago ultimately spelled its demise because it prompted lawmakers such as Georgia Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, who helped draft sections of the measure, to withdraw support. "The backlash began as soon as an outline for a bill was announced, and it was relentless," said Joan Kirchner, a top aide to Mr. Isakson. Neither of the Georgia senators has taken a public position on this year's bill.
In recent weeks, Mr. Isakson's office has been receiving about 100 calls a day compared with as many as 2,000 a day in 2007. The volume is expected to rise if a bill reaches the floor, Ms. Kirchner said, "but signs are it won't be as intense." Activists said they are planning a protest outside Mr. Isakson's Atlanta office in early June.
Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a talk-radio trade magazine, said many influential hosts have "moved on" to discuss gun control, health care and other "hit topics" because "the public's attitude is different on immigration."
Alan Ogushoff, who made protest calls to Mr. Chambliss's office in 2007, often several times a day, said he remains a foe of any legalization. But, the avid listener of conservative talk radio said, "I'm just going to let this happen and move on; I'm burned out fighting it."
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a national group that channeled grass-roots opposition to the 2007 bill into a barrage of calls, faxes and emails to lawmakers, agreed "there may be some fatigue" now. Still, the group over the weekend said it unveiled TV and radio ads opposing the bill in 18 states. One radio script warning of the dangers of adding more potential workers says: "Jobs—20 million of our friends, family and neighbors still can't find one."
Groups pressing for an immigration overhaul, such as businesses and undocumented youngsters, also have been more vocal. The Evangelical Immigration Table, made up of leaders of Christian organizations, this week will launch another round of national radio ads to promote the overhaul.
"This time, there is not as much emotion on our side," said Mr. Beck of NumbersUSA. But, "I don't know if that means there is less resolve."
Post a Comment