Liberal, conservative groups push for immigration bill in the House

Chris Moody
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, and GOP leaders, pauses while meeting with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, following a Republican strategy session. House Republicans confronting the politically volatile issue of immigration are wrestling with what to do about those already here illegally, with most Republicans reluctant to endorse citizenship for 11 million unauthorized immigrants but also shying away from suggestions of deportation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Facing pressure from interest groups to pass an immigration reform bill, House Republicans planned to meet Wednesday in a closed-door meeting to hash out a way forward on the issue.

Outside, a rare coalition with groups from across the political spectrum are looking for ways to convince them to act. The heads of the conservative American Action Forum, Americans of Tax Reform and the American Conservative Union sent a joint letter to congressional leaders this week calling for passage of a comprehensive bill. Labor groups are dispatching members to congressional offices and running ads in a dozen House districts. The Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of Christian groups are holding a gathering in Washington D.C. later this month.

The Senate passed its own immigration bill with bipartisan support in June, and as attention shifts to the House, immigration reform advocates are re-calibrating their outreach efforts for the lower chamber, where the hurdles to passing a comprehensive bill that both increases border security and offers a path to lawful status for immigrants living in the United States illegally are significantly higher. House Republican leaders have shown little interest taking a comprehensive approach, and have refused to vote on the Senate's bill.

The stubbornness on the part of some House Republicans puts groups with traditional ties to liberal and Democratic causes in an awkward position. They need help from Republicans to achieve the long-awaited goal of immigration reform, but how can they convince them to play ball?

Part of the answer, according to Eliseo Medina, Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, is warning Republicans that not supporting an immigration overhaul will hurt their party's future.

“If Speaker Boehner cares about remaining speaker beyond 2014, he’d better start thinking about this because there are enough Latinos in Republican districts to make a difference on who retains the majority or who wins the majority in the House," Medina said during a media conference call Tuesday when discussing outreach strategies to House members on immigration. "So it’s both a policy and political consideration that they need to be thinking about.”

The liberal SEIU offering strategic advice to conservative Republicans? How nice of them! Well, sort of.

The Internet has a term for this. It's called "concern trolling," which describes when a group on one side of an issue expresses false "concern" for the well-being of their opponents. A quick glance at SEIU's political donation history-- more than $1.7 million to Democratic candidates in 2012 and just $3,750 to Republicans in 2012--might lead one to question how much the organization genuinely cares about the long-term health of the GOP.

Motives aside, pro-immigration groups are planning to use the argument as part of a larger messaging strategy to sway skeptical House members, and they claim to have the data to back it up.

David Damore, a senior analyst at Latino Decisions who joined Medina on the conference call Tuesday, pointed to voter demographic data suggesting that Republicans could jeopardize their electoral future by mishandling the immigration issue. As Yahoo News reported Tuesday, Damore's analysis identifies 14 House Republicans who represent districts with "Latino voting age population that is greater than the margin by which the member won his or her seat in 2012, or whose district was carried by President Barack Obama in 2012." A well-organized Latino voting bloc could plausibly run them out of Congress, which could tip the scales in the House over the next four years, Damore concluded.

Immigration advocates, of course, are also making their case also by touting the immigration reform as sound policy that will benefit the country, but they have determined--wisely!--that appealing to politicians' self-interest couldn't hurt.