Advocates of Senate Bill Turn Their Attention to the House

Rebecca Kaplan
July 7, 2013

When House members left for the July Fourth recess, the prospects for an immigration overhaul in the lower chamber were slim. When members return this week, they will be greeted by the full attention of a coalition of advocates who helped push the Senate bill to completion and who are now turning their sights to the House.

The coming campaign will include efforts to mobilize grassroots actions through town-hall meetings and voter registration drives aimed at Latinos, television and radio ads, and lobbying from representatives of crop growers, high-tech employers, religious leaders, and more.

Several advocacy groups say between 20 and 40 Republican members are ripe targets for aye votes, particularly those whose districts have a growing Hispanic population. The National Council of La Raza is zeroing in on 20 to 26 members, many of whom represent districts where 20 percent or more of voters are Hispanic. Frank Sharry, the executive director of the pro-reform group America’s Voice, estimated that 35 Republicans are “vulnerable to demographic shifts.” At the end of June, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., circulated a list of 23 “persuadable Republicans,” including 12 in districts in which more than 10 percent of the voting-age population is Hispanic. The districts, all of which President Obama won with at least 46 percent of the vote in 2012, are in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

“I think the idea is to pressure the House Republicans right, left, and center, and to do everything we can to bring outside pressure on them to get them to give us a vote on immigration reform with a path to citizenship,” Sharry said. “I actually think the House guys, they’ve sort of retreated a bit into their comfort zone, and I’m quite optimistic that our movement and our allies across the political spectrum will jolt them out.”

Some members will be hit multiple times. Republican Reps. Buck McKeon of California, Mike Coffman of Colorado, Dan Webster of Florida, and Michael Grimm of New York are all targeted by both the DCCC and the Center for Community Change, which last week launched a $1 million campaign consisting of paid media, field activities, and lobbying visits to pressure the House to pass an immigration bill before lawmakers leave for the monthlong August recess.

“Those are all members that we think are winnable, and we’ve seen some progress in their statements and had meetings where we believe that they will pay attention to the changing demographics in their district and are amenable to a bill,” said Jeff Parcher, communications director at the Center for Community Change.

In addition, the group is targeting the House Republican leadership, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who runs the National Republican Campaign Committee.

Several House members also stand to end up in the cross-hairs of high-tech advocates, who will lobby the House after successfully enlisting the help of Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch to get some of their top priorities included in the Senate immigration bill.

"Our goal is to make sure that every House member understands that skilled immigration matters to each and every one of them in some way, shape, or form," said Robert Hoffman, senior vice president for government affairs at the Information Technology Industry Council.

His group—which met with almost every senator's office to lobby for the immigration bill in the upper chamber—is still developing its list of top targets. A report by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute shows that several Republicans represent areas with a big percentage of high-tech jobs. Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama represents parts of Huntsville, where 22.4 percent of jobs were in high-tech in 2011. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., represents parts of Wichita and its 14.8 percent of high-tech jobs. Reps. Bill Posey of Florida, Duncan Hunter of California, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, and Doug Lamborn of Colorado all represent districts that included cities with more than 10 percent of jobs in the industry.

The broad coalition of groups backing the Senate immigration bill also includes religious leaders, notably the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention. Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs for the USCCB, said his group would focus in particular on organizing parishes and arranging meetings with Catholic representatives who would be receptive to the bishops' message. Thirty-one percent of House members are Catholic, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life; 61 of those are Republicans.

“You’re never going to persuade some, but in terms of all the advocacy, they haven’t felt the maximum pressure yet,” Appleby said.

While the broad coalition around the Senate bill comprised of business, labor, agriculture, high-tech, faith leaders, Hispanic community advocates, and otehrs coalesced around the Senate bill in recent months, they won’t necessarily all be pressuring the House to take up that bill (Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a leader of the Gang of Eight, predicted on Fox News recently that the House will do so). Most advocates will insist on a comprehensive bill with a pathway to citizenship, but they realize the House is a different animal, and they think pushing the House and Senate to get to a conference committee is a more realistic goal.

“The most effective thing we can advocate for is a process that results in both the House and Senate sitting down,” Hoffman said. “We all have to do our part to get the House ready to support as comprehensive an approach as possible.”

Some advocates are waiting to finalize their lobbying strategy until after a House GOP meeting scheduled for July 10, when the members will have their first conference-wide discussion of immigration.

“We’re anxious to see how that begins to play out in the House, and we’re eager to play a role that’s best suited for us in making reform a reality,” said Dan Conston, a spokesman for the American Action Network, a conservative, pro-reform group that recently launched a $50,000 ad buy on Fox News in Florida to urge support for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Gang of Eight.

Nearly all the coalition members are working on mobilizing grassroots support for their cause. The National Council of La Raza, for example, is planning a “saturation" of Spanish-language media and voter-registration drives to motivate the Hispanic community.

As for opponents of the Senate bill, they already feel like they’ve scored a major victory by getting House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to pledge he wouldn’t bring a bill to the floor either before or after conference without majority support from his Republican members.

“I feel pretty confident that we can keep opposition somewhere between 80 and 95 percent,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, which seeks to limit immigration levels. Beck said his group, which has been working to build support in the House all year, will also try to win the allegiance of Democrats who are concerned that an increase in legal immigration levels will hurt American wages.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy's California district covers an area with a high percentage of high-tech jobs.