The campaign includes liberal-leaning Hispanic, Asian and African American groups and labor unions, as well as a more centrist coalition of faith, law enforcement and business representatives. Organizers said they are intent on making their voices heard at a time when some GOP leaders have called for granting undocumented residents legal status, but have stopped short of citizenship.
The debate is one of the key points of conflict between President Obama and lawmakers, who are attempting to negotiate the largest overhaul of immigration laws in three decades.
“The election sent Republicans a strong message to work with President Obama to fix our broken system or else face political suicide,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, whose organization announced plans Thursday for 14 rallies in big cities, along with phone calls, leaflets and television ads. “Our focus is citizenship, getting people to have the same rights as anybody else.”
In recent days, an increasing number of congressional Republicans have embraced what they described as a middle ground between full citizenship and the position long held by many in the GOP that illegal immigrants be required to return to their home countries.
Some House Republicans have argued that illegal immigrants could be allowed to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation, but should not be granted the full benefits of being a citizen, including the right to vote.
“If we can find a solution that is short of pathway to citizenship but better than just kicking 12 million people out, why is that not a good solution?” Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho) said this week during an immigration hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.
Clarissa Martinez de Castro, an official with the National Council of La Raza, told reporters in a conference call this week that the Republican tactic creates a “false choice” between the extremes of mass deportation and immediate citizenship. In reality, she said, both Obama and a bipartisan Senate working group have advocated a fairly arduous route that would require illegal immigrants to pay back taxes and learn English, among other requirements, before some would earn citizenship.
“To try to paint that rigorous path as amnesty or as extreme is simply incorrect and frankly out of step with where the American people are,” she said.
Obama, whose reelection was powered with overwhelming support from Latino and Asian voters, has vowed not to settle for a bill that does not include a citizenship provision. At a meeting with advocates this week, he urged them to help the administration keep the pressure on Capitol Hill.