Business leaders on Tuesday helped mobilize an army of advocates to pressure House Republicans into taking action on immigration reform.
The Chamber of Commerce brought together more than 600 activists from around the country for the campaign. Before they headed to Capitol Hill, the activists assembled in the Chamber’s Hall of Flags to hear a presentation about how best to lobby the GOP. “
One of the most positive things that Congress could get done between now and the end of the year is to get immigration reform up and over the finish line,” Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s chief lobbyist, told the crowd to applause.
“Having said that, we do have our work cut out for us,” Josten said.
The activists came to Washington with one overarching goal: prodding the House to act on some form of immigration legislation.
The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill this summer, but House Republicans have rejected that sweeping legislation in favor of a piecemeal approach that prioritizes border security.
The House Judiciary Committee has marked up a series of smaller bills this year that would set up an electronic employment verification system, add more high-skilled visas and bring in more farm temporary workers, among other policy changes.
But so far, none of those immigration bills have come up for a vote.
Advocates think that floor action in the House could lead to a conference committee with the Senate, putting them one step closer to a breakthrough agreement.
“That’s the opening to get the deal done,” Josten said.
Angela Smith Jones, director of public policy for the Indy Chamber, said getting to conference would be “a huge victory.”
“That’s where we could work on getting solid language together,” Smith Jones said.
Immigration reform advocates are trying to goad the House into action before Thanksgiving. If legislation isn’t passed by then, they fear midterm election politics would make the passage of legislation impossible.
“For us, the time is now. It doesn’t make any sense to push it off any later,” said Adam Estle, a pastor from Peoria, Ariz., who participated in the Chamber’s lobby day.
At the Chamber meeting, organizers handed out and collected cards from activists asking to them commit three actions to get immigration legislation moving again.
“Today, you are doing something important. And what happens in the next 5 weeks — between now and Thanksgiving — matters even more. Even simple things will have a big impact,” the card read.
The proposed actions included Tweeting a member of Congress, writing an op-ed, sitting down for an interview with local media or asking a pastor to preach about immigration reform.
Activists were also given an economic study by the Bipartisan Policy Center that found immigration reform would provide a 2.8 percent boost to the nation’s gross domestic product over 10 years.
They also discussed how to hone their immigration reform message to appeal to Republicans on religious grounds.
“I think we could do something that addresses the issues of border security and national security while providing an earned path to citizenship and keeping families together,” said Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. “Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
Estle said he has met with conservative lawmakers and found that a religiously based message resonated with them.
“We are trying to continue to point back to what the Bible has to say about welcoming the stranger and how to treat the other in the community,” Estle said.
The assembled activists hoped the diversity in their ranks — coming from the worlds of faith, business and law enforcement — would help convince lawmakers of the need to act.
“Hearing it from so many different conservative perspectives will allow them to be able to say ‘Okay,' ” Smith Jones said. “I think the House members will have to start listening.”