WASHINGTON — Fence-sitting House Republicans beware: Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are coming for you during the August Congressional recess, planning hundreds of events and spending more than a million dollars on ads, all designed to bring you into the fold.
Immigration organizations, evangelical Christian groups, the business community, and big labor are all plotting a monthlong push, aimed at turning the tide in the House toward finally reforming the nation's immigration laws.
It's unclear that supporters of reform can actually force it into reality: House Republicans are divided on the issue, with many conservatives aggressively pushing against comprehensive reform, insisting it will result in nothing more than de facto amnesty for the 11 million people living in the country illegally. And with the party headed up by an extremely weak leadership team, the notion they can force through a massive reform this year is at best suspect.
But supporters are undeterred.
"We're pretty excited … August is a critical period," said Tom Snyder, who's heading up the AFL-CIO's immigration reform push. "Speaker [John] Boehner gave [anti-reform Rep.] Steve King a vote recently … now it's time for him to give immigrants a vote on a pathway to citizenship."
On Wednesday, about 100 immigration activists will huddle in the offices of the AFL-CIO to finish plotting out a multi-state strategy focused on 40 Republicans members in California, Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and other states.
Later in the day, activists are expected to announce their national campaign.
Already there are "196 scheduled events of various types between now and the end of the recess … there will be more. We're just getting rolling," Snyder said.
Activists aren't just targeting rank and file members either: Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy is also one of the targets. California groups are planning a two-day caravan through various members' districts, ending in McCarthy's Bakersfield district, where they are expecting thousands of supporters for a final rally.
With hundreds of thousands of members across the country, the AFL-CIO is one of the central players in August push: Over the next few weeks the union is planning 26 events of its own, ranging from multi-day phone-banking pushes in Florida and New York to pressing Republican lawmakers in person to mass rallies.
According to union officials, the organization is ready to spend up to a million dollars between now and September on radio, television, and web advertising to support its national mobilization.
The nation's largest union may not seem like an obvious pressure group for Republicans: After all, organized labor is a traditional Democratic base group. But Snyder points out that in House Republicans, even those that are deeply entrenched have tens of thousands of dues paying union members in their districts.
"In [Budget Chairman Paul] Ryan's district there's 40,000 … in [Nevada Rep.] Joe Heck's we've got 22,000 members," Snyder said, adding that "there are large immigrant voting populations in these districts."
Likewise, the business community is ramping up for a major push next month.
"Absolutely we will be engaged in the districts that matter to ensure the House takes up immigration reform. We're going to make sure the business community is well represented and that we have spokespersons across the country communicating with their legislators about why this is important from an economic and business perspective," Blair Latoff Holmes, the senior director of communications for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said. If needed, the chamber could also start dumping significant cash into advertising campaigns targeting Republicans.
And it won't just be through events organized by activists where members will be feeling the heat: Unions and activists are taking a page from the tea party's successful 2010 campaign push and will also be targeting members' town hall meetings.
Meeting times are "starting to trickle in. Wherever there are town halls … in districts where we think we have a persuadable member, we're going to hit those," Snyder said.
That could set up a potentially explosive dynamic. Conservatives, led by Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz are planning a national push to defund Obamacare in September, and are hoping tea party voters will turn out en masse at town halls in August. Given the tensions between union members and tea party activists in the past, ugly episodes could result.
In terms of the prospects of a comprehensive solution to immigration, that may not be the worst thing that could happen, one congressional aide said, arguing that video of pro-reform activists confronting members and tea party activists could help rally moderates in key districts.
"We need that spark, that moment that galvanizes people," the aide said.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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