Immigration advocates target lawmakers in home districts

Immigration advocates anticipating a tough Capitol Hill debate over comprehensive policy changes are trying to pressure lawmakers in their home districts over Easter break.

A coalition of evangelicals is expanding an advertising campaign on Christian radio that began last month in South Carolina to four more states: Texas, Florida, Colorado and North Carolina. The ads feature local pastors making a moral case for revamping immigration laws, including offering a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, in New York, Atlanta, Houston and elsewhere, activists plan to hold demonstrations Tuesday to protest Democratic support for what they’re calling overzealous immigration enforcement techniques that jail and deport immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The efforts are part of a growing number of grass-roots campaigns aimed at shaping debate before proposals by bipartisan working groups in both the Senate and House are released.

The campaigns will soon expand to Washington. Advocates are planning a rally of thousands at the Capitol on April 10, and hundreds of religious leaders are scheduled to meet with lawmakers at the Capitol on April 17. Labor unions are planning a major day of action in May.

Pastors said the goal of their effort is to translate a growing awareness among church leaders of the problems with the current immigration system, which has kept families apart for years, to other members of the church and their elected leaders. The impetus to seek change has grown as more Latinos and Asians have joined Christian churches.

The ad campaign, at a cost estimated to be in six figures, will run all week on Christian radio stations, organizers said.

“It’s been said that the most compelling voice a legislator hears is that of his own constituents,” said Tim King, communications director at Sojourners, a Christian advocacy group on social issues that is helping stage the radio ad campaign.

David Fleming, senior pastor at the Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, said he has met with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) to discuss his 11,000-member congregation’s suppjort for an immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship, strong border control and a robust family visa program.

“They say they’re representing the voices they’ve been hearing,” said Fleming, who narrates one of the ads. “What we say to them is, ‘We support you, and there’s a growing tide of conservative support for immigration reform. You’re not going out on a limb and you won’t be exposed in your next election.’ ”

The advocates who are protesting the policies and techniques of immigration enforcement agencies say they will target Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), the leading Democrat in a bipartisan group of senators drafting a comprehensive bill to revise immigration laws. They said they fear Schumer will cut a deal supporting beefed-up border and workplace security measures that unfairly target immigrants.

Activists will deliver petitions to Schumer’s New York City office and place anti-Schumer fliers in neighborhoods with large Latino populations, organizers said.

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