Immigration push is bonanza for lobbyists

The sweeping immigration overhaul moving through Congress is creating a bonanza for lobbyists.

While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and Silicon Valley companies are making the most noise on immigration reform, a grab bag of other groups and companies are working under the radar to shape the bill.

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Roughly 500 companies, trade groups and unions, among others, lobbied on immigration this past quarter, according to disclosure records. Many of their interests are extremely narrow, but still require checking in on the Senate Gang of Eight’s bill.

Among those with a rooting interest in the immigration debate is the U.S. Olympic Committee, which works to bring the Games to the United States, among other duties.

Desiree Filippone, the managing director of government relations for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said improving the visa process could provide a major boost to America’s next Olympics bid.

“The easier it is to get all of these athletes and international Olympic officials into the country ... [that] helps us on some level. Everything we can do to facilitate that process will better position us and improve our chances the next time we want to host any future Olympic events,” Filippone said.
For now, interest groups are focused on the Senate, where lawmakers have been hashing out legislative provisions on border security, citizenship and the flow of foreign labor into the U.S.

The Olympic Committee is employing lobbyists at Monument Policy Group to track the Senate bill and is backing an amendment from Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) that would set up a State Department pilot program that would use video-conference interviews for visa applications.

The video-conferencing measure was adopted last week during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of the bill.

“It would make a big difference if it could be done without jeopardizing security since it could help people trying to travel here from remote areas,” Filippone said.

The Olympic committee is not alone in tracking immigration this year.

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) is getting some advocacy help from the lobby shop Thorsen French Advocacy. The group, which represents Hollywood directors, works with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to bring foreign filmmakers to the U.S.

“DGA is a designated organization that provides USCIS advisory opinions regarding foreign directors who apply for a visa to come to the USA to work. We are following immigration reform to ensure we understand how the legislation could affect us,” said Carl Thorsen with Thorsen French Advocacy.
Special provisions in the Senate immigration reform bill have attracted scrutiny from some lawmakers.

“There is a lot of talk about this bill having earmarks or provisions for special interest groups,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) at a markup session for the Senate bill last week.

Grassley cited a New York Times report on carve-outs in the bill that allot more visas for certain countries, including Ireland. But that provision has survived so far under the watchful eye of Irish advocates.

“We feel pretty positive. There is a lot of progress on the overall bill as well as the Irish aspect,” said Niall O’Dowd, founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.

The provision that O’Dowd is watching in the Senate immigration reform bill would provide 10,500 visas to Irish nationals each year to come to the U.S.
O’Dowd was in Washington last week with up to 20 people representing the Irish group, meeting with lawmakers to discuss immigration reform. That’s a marked difference from the public pressure the group brought to bear during the 2007 immigration reform push, when thousands from O’Dowd’s group rallied and lobbied on Capitol Hill.

O’Dowd said the widespread support for immigration reform is helping the group’s cause.

“We think there is more than enough weight from the Hispanic groups, labor, even Silicon Valley pushing for the broader immigration bill, which will carry along our provision,” O’Dowd said. “We don’t want to be seen as over-killing on our particular part of the bill. Compared with Kennedy-McCain, we are definitely playing it down.”

The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform parted ways earlier this year with lobby shop Morrison Public Affairs Group, which is headed up by former Rep. Bruce Morrison (D-Conn.), who worked to expand visas for Irish nationals when he was on Capitol Hill.

O’Dowd said he might need Morrison’s help again this year.

“Bruce is not only our lobbyist, but has been a great friend of the Irish community. If we need Bruce, we can call on him. Right now at this phase of the bill, we don’t, but that could quite likely change,” O’Dowd said.