JULIA PRESTON - The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Even as they were popping corks on Thursday night after a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate to pass an immigration bill, supporters of the overhaul were laying plans for the far more difficult task of moving something similar through the Republican-controlled House.
Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio insisted on Thursday that the House would not take up the Senate bill and would pass its own measure only if a majority of Republicans backed it, instead of relying more on Democratic votes.
As a sign of the conservative direction of the debate in the House, its Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill to enforce immigration laws away from the nation’s borders that was much tougher than anything from the Senate. The House has yet to produce a bill that includes a core piece of the Senate legislation: a path to citizenship for 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country.
While supporters are hardly confident, they say House Republicans will soon discover a crucial difference this year from failed immigration efforts of the past. They say their coalition is broader and far more energized and committed than in 2007, when an immigration overhaul by President George W. Bush did not even reach a vote in the Senate.
Latinos, who showed their strength when they overwhelmingly supported President Obama last November, are a leading force, but are not the only one, supporters said. Business and technology industry groups, labor unions, agricultural growers, farmworkers, law enforcement associations, churches, educators, youth groups and other immigrant organizations are also in the mix.
The diversity gives supporters a variety of pressure points for approaching reluctant House Republicans, said Clarissa Martínez de Castro
, an organizer for NCLR, the national Latino organization also known as the National Council of La Raza. A lawmaker who does not have many Latino voters in a district might have vegetable farmers, or labor unions, or a university, or an evangelical Christian megachurch, she said.
Asked why he thought the overhaul had a fighting chance in the House, Ali Noorani, a veteran of many immigration wars, pointed to a big green mobile billboard that had circled Capitol Hill every day this week.
Its flashing message was “Praying for immigrants. Praying for Congress.” Groups of evangelical Christians prayed on the Capitol lawn for the Senate to pass its bill. Mr. Noorani’s group, the National Immigration Forum, has worked with Southern Baptists and other large evangelical denominations to coordinate prayer campaigns and run pro-overhaul spots on Christian radio stations in states where lawmakers might be persuaded to change their views.
“In 2007, we weren’t even on the radar,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodríguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an evangelical group. Mr. Rodríguez said he had been on the road continuously, addressing primarily non-Hispanic Christian conferences to spread the message on the overhaul.
Business groups are also pledging to stay in the fray.
“What will shock a lot of people in the House is the level of interest and intensity of the business community compared to 2007,” said Scott Corley, the executive director of Compete America, which represents tech companies that are pressing for an increase in visas for skilled immigrants.
In 2007, Silicon Valley companies stayed in the background, and after a bruising and finally fruitless fight with labor unions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lost enthusiasm. This year, the Senate bill includes a compromise that the chamber and the A.F.L-C.I.O. worked out to bring in low-wage migrant workers in the future, as well as provisions for high-skilled immigrants.
On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee approved its own bill to offer more visas for foreign computer engineers and scientists, which was also to the liking of Mr. Corley and leaders of other tech groups. But Mr. Corley said tech companies remained convinced that such measures had to be part of a comprehensive package like the Senate bill, including the path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.
During the Senate debate, one business group, the Partnership for a New American Economy, which was started by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, tried a populist approach with what organizers called a virtual march on Washington. The group claims to have carried off one of the largest simultaneous “thunderclaps” of Twitter messages and Facebook posts, reaching more than 40 million people.
The organization ran newspaper ads in Utah signed by business leaders and political figures, and it organized a letter from 21 Tennessee university presidents to the state’s senators, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, both Republicans. Both lawmakers voted for the immigration bill.
Frank Sharry, another veteran of past immigration debates, said he believed that a bipartisan majority probably already existed in the House for legislation like the Senate measure, but that it would include most Democrats and only a minority of Republicans. Mr. Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, an advocacy group, argued that the burden would be on Republicans, and particularly on Mr. Boehner, to provide explanations to voters if the House advances no legislation this year to fix an immigration system that is widely regarded as dysfunctional.
Supporters have been newly galvanized by their victory in the Senate, and so have opponents. In the Senate, the most passionate opposition was waged by a single tireless Republican lawmaker, Jeff Sessions of Alabama. In the House, many conservative Republicans reject the Senate bill as dangerously weak on border and interior enforcement, and as giving too much too soon to illegal immigrants.
House opponents of the Senate approach are led by experienced lawmakers like Lamar Smith of Texas and Steve King of Iowa, both Republicans. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, has been ecumenical in airing a range of views in immigration hearings he has held, but he has left no doubt that he will support only a plan far tougher than the Senate measure, perhaps with no path to citizenship.
The wider opposition in the House also gives more points of contact to the main organizations fighting against any legislation that they see as amnesty for lawbreakers, including NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Mr. Obama, who was traveling in Senegal, called several of the senators from the bipartisan group that wrote the immigration legislation to congratulate them on its passage, and he called Mr. Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House leader, urging them to follow suit.
Supporters say they are on the offensive now.
“The House has not felt our love yet,” said Eliseo Medina, the international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, a leading labor group in the campaign for the overhaul. On Friday, more than 100 top organizers from unions, immigration groups and other organizations converged on Washington for a two-day session to strategize for the House debate.
Mr. Rodríguez, of the evangelical coalition, said Republicans who voted to block the overhaul could face future costs.
“We were at the edge of the Jordan River, but after the Senate, we officially got our feet wet,” he said. “If 11 million immigrants are left in the middle of the water and do not reach the promised land, neither will the Republican Party reach the promised land of the White House.”
READ MORE: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/29/us/politics/immigration-advocates-lay-...