In lobbyists' sights: Immigration
BY ALAN GOMEZ USA TODAY
Monday, December 10, 2012
12/10/12 at 5:28 AM
WASHINGTON - As Congress prepares to tackle the massive issue of immigration, legislators understand that the central issues have not changed much since their last attempt failed in 2007.
But Jennifer Korn, executive director of the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network, said the motivation to change the nation's law on legal and illegal immigration has definitely changed.
"There are two things that speak to elected officials: one is money, and the other is the vote," said Korn, who was President George W. Bush's director of Hispanic and Women's Affairs during the 2007 negotiations.
The election results provided all the attention needed to the importance of the Hispanic vote. President Obama beat Republican challenger Mitt Romney 71 percent to 27 percent among Hispanics.
Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, have since embraced the need to alter immigration laws.
And now comes the money.
Shortly after the election, a group of influential Republicans announced the creation of Republicans for Immigration Reform, a super PAC designed to help GOP members of Congress who support a comprehensive immigration solution. The super PAC was created by Carlos Gutierrez, former Commerce secretary for President George W. Bush, and Charlie Spies, the treasurer of Restore our Future, the primary super PAC that backed Romney's presidential campaign.
"There's never been money put behind this to really have an impact and have influence and have some dollars behind the effort," Gutierrez said. "That's what we plan to do with the super PAC."
Persuading enough Republicans to embrace any plan that includes the legalization of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants will be at the heart of the immigration debate. Many in the party, including Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, decry such attempts as "amnesty" for people who have broken the nation's laws.
And while Democrats have embraced a plan that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a group of powerful Hispanic Democrats are creating their own organization to hammer the point home.
Led by actress Eva Longoria, San Antonio architect Henry Muñoz and Democratic National Committee member Andres Lopez, all fundraisers for Obama, the group will focus on delivering their message on immigration legislation to voters around the country. "In politics, it's all about right timing. And this is an idea whose time has come," Lopez said.
Lobbying and advocating for immigration legislation has always been a unique endeavor, bringing in a wide, varied group of interests who usually don't share much in common. For example, business leaders have worked closely with groups they usually don't get along with.
"The (U.S. Chamber of Commerce) has long had a working relationship with the unions and liberal groups in support of comprehensive immigration reform, in which we have often allied with the Democrats," said Chamber Vice President Randy Johnson. "But we recognize that a bill has to be bipartisan and we will spend time working both sides."
Agricultural companies looking for reliable workers from Central and South America have worked with high-tech business leaders looking for computer engineers from China and India.
On Dec. 4, the National Immigration Forum hosted a conference in D.C. where religious leaders joined law enforcement officials to call for a pathway to citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants. While the pastors were explaining the moral imperative of treating those immigrants fairly, the police chiefs were explaining how legalization would help them fight crime.
Bringing together so many voices also leads to major headaches.
Vivek Wadhwa, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is now a fellow at Stanford Law School, said entrepreneurs developing smaller start-up companies are being drowned out by larger companies.
In 2012, President Obama's campaign received more than $7 million from tech companies, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. "The big companies have hired their Washington, D.C., people. They have their lobbyists," Wadhwa said. "But Microsoft doesn't speak to represent the start-ups here. The students at Stanford, the venture capitalists and the angel investors - there's no one to speak on their behalf."
One constant throughout the process has been the illegal immigrants themselves and groups who advocate on their behalf. Young illegal immigrants won a victory earlier this year when Obama announced that he would halt the deportations of many of them. And many feel that momentum, and that experience, can help carry through to a broader bill putting most of the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally on a pathway to citizenship.
"There are deeper roots in affected communities, and there's a more active base than there might have been in 2007," said B. Loewe, spokesman for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "Now you see sustained and ongoing organizing and community-level infrastructure around this issue."
Original Print Headline: Immigration reform draws interest on several fronts