Immigration Groups Turn to Anger

Anna Palmer and Seung Min Kim, Politico, February 10, 2014

Immigration reform advocates are done playing nice with House Republicans.

After holding their fire for years at the urging of the Obama administration, several immigration reform groups now plan to unleash their anger at the right.

A new, more aggressive campaign kicks off Tuesday, when these groups say they will begin confronting Republican lawmakers at public appearances, congressional hearings and events back in home districts. The goal: Shame Republicans in swing districts into taking up the issue—or make them pay at the ballot box in November.

It’s unclear if the strategy will truly damage Republicans with their constituents. Or worse, whether it might backfire and oust some of the movement’s best potential allies across the aisle.

Still, the groups believe it’s time to try something new. The movement embraced a distinctly positive message when Barack Obama took office in 2009 and stuck with it publicly even until last month, when the groups applauded House Republican leaders for releasing a set of immigration reform principles at a GOP winter retreat.

But things changed last week when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dashed hopes that a major immigration overhaul could happen this year—leaving immigration groups to say enough is enough.

“Obviously, persuasion only got us so far,” Kica Matos, a spokeswoman for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, said Monday. “What we are now doing is to switch tactics from persuasion to punishment.”

Matos declined to say which members of Congress are at risk for the in-your-face treatment but warned that the campaign would be “relentless and constant.” America’s Voice and CASA in Action are also leading the effort. The plan for now is to engage in daily confrontations for at least the next two months, Matos said.

The groups also plan to target House Republicans in swing districts with a wide section of Latino voters—even if they’ve expressed support for immigration reform before. That means that lawmakers such as Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who has gone as far as to sign onto a Democratic-backed comprehensive bill, aren’t safe from the wrath of the pro-reform groups.

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Immigration reform proponents believe there is still a window for House Republicans to take up a package in May or June and that it’s time for business groups, the high-tech industry and evangelicals to gin up pressure.

“We’re just not going to take a press statement by John Boehner and say I guess it’s over,” said Frank Sharry of America’s Voice and a veteran of the reform movement. “It’s not for John Boehner to tell us when we are alive or dead.”

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[Mi Familia Vota Executive Director Ben] Monterroso said his group and others are focused on voter registration to grow the number of Latino voters. As the election nears, Monterroso said their campaign will include mailings, media ad buys and partnering with Spanish media to inform the Latino community.

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the director of immigration and national campaigns for National Council of La Raza, said the group has set out a goal of registering 250,000 new Latino voters in a wide-scale campaign launched last month with Mi Familia Vota. They are up to roughly 10,000 new voters registered in states such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and Oklahoma, Martinez said.

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