Business & Lobbying

Immigration lobby prepares to camp out in Republican districts over recess

Business groups, tech companies and labor unions are bringing down the hammer on House Republicans over immigration reform.

Supporters of immigration reform worry the August recess could be their Waterloo, and are planning events, rallies and editorial board meetings to keep their legislative push alive.

{mosads}House members can expect to find themselves targeted by groups during the recess period, much like senators were before voting on legislation earlier this summer.

“It’s very, very clear that people are going to be looking at the August recess on how they are going to proceed. They will be taking the temperature,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy. “It is certainly a key moment in the debate.”

The pressure campaign is already underway. More than 400 business groups and companies signed onto a letter to House leaders sent Tuesday that urged them to “not let this momentum slip and progress vanish.”

“Failure to act is not an option. We can’t afford to be content and watch a generation-old immigration system work more and more against our overall national interest,” the letter said.

Heavyweights backing the letter included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Dow Chemical Co., General Electric, AT&T, Google, Facebook and tech-centric groups like Compete America and the Information Technology Industry Council.

The call to action is also coming from within the GOP. More than 100 conservative donors and fundraisers sent a separate letter to Republican lawmakers on Tuesday exhorting them “take action to fix our broken immigration system,” according to The New York Times.

Members of the Senate’s Gang of Eight hope it’s only a taste of the lobbying barrage to come.

Immigration reform champion Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), speaking at an event Tuesday at the AFL-CIO’s headquarters, said August is a “very important month.”

“So far — I have to give you some straight talk — we haven’t done as an effective job as we are going to have to do between now and this fall,” McCain said Tuesday.

McCain and other members of the Senate’s Gang of Eight have privately pushed businesses, including tech companies, to ramp up their lobbying pressure on the House.

In a meeting earlier this month, members of the Gang gave lobbyists a list of more than 100 House Republicans whom the senators believed could be gettable votes for immigration reform. 

Groups attending the powwow included Americans for Tax Reform, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, Compete America, Facebook, Intel, Microsoft, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Restaurant Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“They were saying if members only hear the negative and don’t hear the other side, how do you expect them to vote for the bill? You need to get your grassroots organized and activated,” said a lobbyist who attended the meeting.

Groups seem to be heeding the call to action, and are fanning out to House districts across the country for a massive grassroots campaign.

The Partnership, which includes New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and media mogul Rupert Murdoch among its co-chairmen, will be active in 35 House districts in 15 states, working with local leaders in support of immigration reform. That effort could soon double in size, according to Robbins.

Other groups said they will be going on offense while lawmakers are away from the Capitol.

“From here on out, it is about making sure that House Republicans are being supported by their conservative voters. So all of our attention is on conservative members of the House,” said Ali Noorani, executive director for the National Immigration Forum.

The forum is in the process of pulling together 50 roundtable events to support immigration reform across the country. Eighteen have been organized so far in states like Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin, Utah and Indiana.

Liberal-leaning groups also plan to keep up the pressure.

“We have to be relentless during this critical time. We want every House member to know that we aren’t going away,” said Dawn Le, deputy campaign manager of the Alliance for Citizenship.

The Alliance, which includes major labor groups like AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union and several other civil rights and immigrant advocates, is planning to target districts across 23 states.

Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy for the National Restaurant Association, said business has already been laying the groundwork for the August recess push on immigration. He noted his trade group’s affiliated groups have had held several events across the country in states including Arizona, South Carolina and Texas during the past year.

“We are getting a much better reception in states that didn’t want touch immigration reform during the last major push,” Amador said.

Several coalitions told The Hill that ad campaigns could be part of their recess strategy, though they had not made decisions on where and when to place online, radio and television spots.

“We are drawing up the plans for a big ad campaign if necessary, so if there are spot ads that need to be run, we are ready to run them,” Robbins said. “Paid media is a hugely effective tool but on the ground organizing can be just as effective, if not more so.”

Not surprisingly, many groups will be encouraging their members to attend lawmakers’ town-hall meetings, where the backlash to the Senate’s immigration reform bill is expected to be strongest.

“For better or worse, a lot of focus has been on the town-hall meetings from the press. We will certainly encourage our members to attend to make sure there is moderate discussion of the issue, not just the side-shouting,” Robbins said.

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