It continues to be widely accepted that there is no chance comprehensive immigration reform could ever get through the House. But proponents of reform are not prepared to give up. And they are putting together a plan designed to win over individual House Republicans — one by one — by mobilizing constituencies within their districts to make an economic and moral case that reform is necessary not just to solve the immigration problem, but for the good of the economy and the country.
Earlier this week, business groups and other advocates for reform met with leading pro-reform Senators to discuss the fact that efforts to pressure House Republicans have been too sluggish and need to be revved up for the August recess. And it’s true that aides to reform Senators are frustrated and want to see more action. But proponents of reform are trying to change that, and the nuances of the emerging plan are interesting and important.
The idea is to identify major businesses — farmers, growers, tech companies — in the districts of individual Republicans and get them to make the case to their Members of Congress that immigration reform is necessary for the good of the local economy. In other words, the idea is to make this less about what major business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or big agricultural groups want and more about what their individual members want of their own Representatives. The notion that reform is being orchestrated by big business and “big ag” groups is a rallying cry against it for conservatives.
“People are talking about this as if it’s all about the big Republican groups like the Chamber of Commerce,” an aide to a pro-reform Senator tells me. “What’s going to matter is their ability to activate their members and reach down into the business grass roots. House Republicans are going to start to hear from the businesses in their districts.”
“Republicans will begin to hear from farmers in their districts who are unable to plant their full amount of crops because of uncertainty that the labor is going to be there for them,” the aide continues. “There are tech companies in some of the suburbs represented by Republicans that are poised to grow but are looking to hire talent from abroad. The H-1 visa provision would be extremely helpful to them.” Such business owners, the aide continues, will tell their Members: “I could be hiring more people. This is extremely important to me.”
Meanwhile, reform proponents will enlist pastors and others in the faith community to argue directly to their Members of Congress for the path to citizenship, a second person involved in the planning tells me. “It’s important for Members in conservative districts to hear from their local faith leaders, who are able to make the case that there is a moral imperative to providing a pathway for people out of the shadows — for `caring for the stranger in their midst,’” this person says. The overall effort is loosely organized, involving business, farm, and faith groups communicating via their members to their lawmakers, and lawmakers invested in reform will be involved in its evolution.
There’s another nuance to appreciate about this emerging plan. It isn’t just about trying to persuade House Republicans to vote for comprehensive reform. It’s also about getting businesses and other local constituencies to tell their GOP members of Congress that they’d like them privately signal to GOP leaders that they’d be okay with a comprehensive bill getting to the floor, for the good of their constituents, even if they are reluctant to vote for it — and even if it ends up passing with more Dem votes.
“We also want to get the folks who may not be inclined to support reform to go to the House leadership and ask them to have a vote,” the aide says.
Senate aides gaming out reform’s chances in the House think there may be several dozen House Republicans who might support comprehensive immigration reform; 60 or so who will never support anything; and around 120 or 125 in a third group. This group might either be persuaded to support comprehensive reform if the border security provisions are tough enough, or more likely might be willing to tacitly support a vote on comprehensive reform. The latter group is the main target of this effort.
What unifies the message that will be pushed through these channels is the idea that immigration reform is not just a means to fixing a broken system that has left millions in the shadows; it’s also necessary to improve the economy at the local and national level. As such, the case will be made that only comprehensive reform will do, for the sake of all the different groups that would benefit from it, and for the sake of the economy overall.
To be sure, opponents appear to have the upper hand when it comes to winning the battle in House districts, and they appear to be well organized going in to the critical August recess period. And perhaps winning over House Republicans even to support a vote on comprehensive reform is hopeless. But as the aide tells me: “We’re gonna kick into high gear.”