Immigration advocates vow big Washington rallies to press reform

After a summer of targeting individual House members in their districts, advocates for comprehensive immigration reform say they will escalate their efforts in the fall with larger rallies and demonstrations aimed at a national audience.

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The shift in tactics comes as some leaders in the movement are voicing frustration that the more narrowly tailored activities used during the August recess have failed to maximize pressure on House Republican leaders to take up immigration legislation.

“I say that one of the problems we have is that Congress isn’t hearing enough from the American people, that we’re using too many sophisticated methods of communication,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) told reporters earlier this week. “We’re buying ads there, and radio ads there, and hiring this lobbyist there. We need people power, and we need to concentrate.”

A series of demonstrations and rallies are planned for major cities on Oct. 5, ahead of a march in Washington on Oct. 8, Gutiérrez said. He said organizers hoped to attract 15,000 people in the capital to pressure Congress.

With budget and debt-ceiling debates expected to dominate an abbreviated legislative calendar in September, immigration reform isn’t likely to come to the House floor until October, lawmakers and aides have said.

Even then, advocates may have difficulty sustaining momentum for the issue, particularly if the fiscal fights drag out through the fall.

Immigration reform advocates defended their strategy for August, saying their goal was to “outgun” the movement’s opponents and generate headlines in local rather than national press. 

“It’s been not huge marches on Washington, but those have been happening on Main Street, in key districts around the country,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, the group pushing for immigration reform backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “And that's something we’re very proud and optimistic with how that's gone.”

“You do have to lobby,” said Tom Snyder, who is managing the AFL-CIO’s campaign for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

The August plan, Snyder said in an interview, was for a “massive number of events in Republican districts, not necessarily huge rallies.” 

“We’re planning to escalate the pressure in September, October and November,” he said. “We’re executing a plan that we made some time ago.”

Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform said the relative lack of major activity in August was due to the slim chance that the House would actually consider legislation similar to the bill that passed the Senate in June. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the House won't vote on that measure and that any immigration proposal must gain the support of a majority of the Republican conference.

"As long as that's the case, there's not this great sense of looming danger out there," said Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, which opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Beck voiced doubt that any plans for large rallies by reform advocates would alter the political dynamic. "I thought that was what they were planning for August. It sounds like more of the same," he said. "I don't see how more political theater is going to make a difference."