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Why immigration reformers need to ‘kick ass’ in August

During the recess, lawmakers go home and hear from constituents. Whose voices will be louder--those who advocate comprehensive immigration reform, or those who oppose it?
/ Source: MSNBC TV

During the recess, lawmakers go home and hear from constituents. Whose voices will be louder--those who advocate comprehensive immigration reform, or those who oppose it?

People listen to a broadcast of the debate in Congress at a 24-hour vigil calling on Congress to pass immigration reform in Los Angeles, June 27, 2013. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Immigration supporters’ hope is that when Congress returns home for August recess next week, they’ll find a soaring chorus of interest groups all singing the virtues of comprehensive reform across their district. Their fear is that lawmakers will instead be confronted with a primal scream from conservative activists, who turn out to condemn any kind of legalization for undocumented immigrants.

“I think the month of August is a very important month,” Senator John McCain, a co-sponsor of the Senate’s already passed immigration bill, said at an AFL-CIO event on immigration Tuesday. “‘They’re consulting with, meeting with various groups they represent ranging from organized labor to the [Chamber of Commerce], a lot of it depending on the makeup of their district.”

Immigration advocates say the goal is to be as visible as possible during the break. McCain said he planned to tour his state during the break to build support for his immigration bill at town halls, teaming up with evangelical groups, business leaders and Hispanic organizations along the way. On Wednesday, left-leaning and right-leaning immigration supporters announced their own separate plans to pressure swing voters with rallies, ad campaigns, and meetings.

On the left, the Alliance For CItizenship, a coalition of labor, religious groups, and Latino and Asian advocacy organizations, detailed a plan to host hundreds of rallies and vigils in 30 congressional districts, most of them in western states, as part of a “Summer for Citizenship.”

“In August, Republicans will be hearing from their constituents, from business owners, from law enforcement, from clergy, from their voters and their campaign contributors that sensible immigration reform absolutely has to pass this year,” Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois  said at a press conference on the campaign. “If they go to a beach resort, I want the hotel owner and the maid who puts a chocolate on their pillow to talk to them about immigration reform.”

On the right, the American Action Network announced it was launching the “Conservative Immigration Support Network” for the same month and planned to spend $250,000 organizing local leaders in 20 districts in support of a bill. According to AAN president Brian Walsh, the goal is to “deliver  an important message to Congress this August to continue their work on conservative immigration reform.”

In the back of everyone’s minds is the August recess of 2009. That year, Democratic lawmakers were months into negotiations with moderate Republicans on a health care bill. But when members returned home to their states and districts, they found an energized Tea Party movement in full revolt against the president’s agenda. The law passed, but with only Democratic support as the GOP swung to the right to satisfy the increasingly conservative activists in their base. Similarly in 2006 and 2007, immigration bills died thanks in part to opposition from the grassroots right that flooded lawmakers’ offices with denunciations of “amnesty.”

This time, immigration supporters think they’re better prepared and the opposition more scattered–the anti-immigration right is closer to a loose coalition of media commentators than organized activists at the moment. But they won’t know for sure until the town hall doors open in districts around the country.

“I know people are dying to write ‘The Tea Party has a “Health Care Summer” on immigration reform’, but I’m starting to think we’re going to kick some ass in August,” Frank Sharry, executive director of immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, told MSNBC.