Grassroots Activists and 5 Others Against Immigration Reform

PHOTO: remember
Remember 1986

Grassroots conservative groups are credited with helping kill the last immigration reform effort in 2007.

Now, with a bill moving forward in the Senate, they're starting to mobilize again.

Anti-amnesty activists will hold press conferences around the country on May 21, under the common banner of the "Remember 1986" coalition. That's in reference to the 1986 immigration reform law that eventually allowed 2.7 million undocumented immigrants to become legal permanent residents.

The message: the 1986 bill didn't stop illegal immigration and neither will this one.

But compared to the pushback in 2007, vocal grassroots opposition has been tepid so far.

Rusty Childress, the founder of Remember 1986, said that's partly because Republican party leaders are now supporting an immigration overhaul. That includes Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, who are part of the so-called Gang of Eight that drafted the immigration bill in the Senate.

"You would have to ask the Gang of Eight what their motives are, but for the most part I think they're trying to get more control of Washington," Childress said. "The Republicans feel that's slipping away because of the Hispanic vote, and they just seem to be misguided in this topic."

Don't expect thousands of people marching in the streets, at least not yet. But Childress and other activists will be targeting lawmakers to make their voices heard, even as those voices are increasingly on the margins of the public debate.

Here's a look at some of the other factions that are opposing the immigration reform bill in the Senate.

PHOTO: USCIS
John Moore/Getty Images
Federal Immigration Workers

Immigration reform has the support of the AFL-CIO, representing 12 million union members across the country.

But there are a couple unions that aren't supporting the immigration package.

A union representing federal immigration agents has been against the overall from the outset. But now they've joined forces with another federal immigration agency, the one that handles immigration paperwork.

Together, the unions for employees of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have 20,000 members.

That's not much compared to the greater labor movement. But these are the people who will be charged with implementing the bill if it becomes law.

The main complaints are that the border security goals in the legislation aren't strict enough and that the path to legalization is too broad.

The president of the union representing USCIS employees, Kenneth Palinkas, explained why they're opposing the immigration bill in a statement released on Monday:

"The attitude of USCIS management is not that the Agency serves the American public or the laws of the United States, or public safety and national security, but instead that the agency serves illegal aliens and the attorneys which represent them," he wrote. "While we believe in treating all people with respect, we are concerned that this agency tasked with such a vital security mission is too greatly influenced by special interest groups-to the point that it no longer properly performs its mission."

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The Old Guard

Then there are the traditional "anti-amnesty" groups.

FAIR, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) have all been campaigning against illegal immigration for decades, and they're still at it.

The three groups have different missions but were all nurtured by John Tanton, a controversial environmentalist from Michigan (read all about him here).

FAIR and NumbersUSA are supporting the Remember 1986 campaign and CIS has been sending out regular emails to its membership against the immigration bill.

But these groups no longer enjoy broad support among Republicans. Republican heavyweights like anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tried to discredit them earlier this year, circulating information about the connection between the groups and population control.

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Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
House Border Hawks

Last week, a group of eight conservatives in the House banded together against the immigration reform bill in the Senate.

The coalition was headlined by Rep. Steve King (Iowa), one of the most outspoken opponents of illegal immigration in Congress.

Like many of the voices in Congress who are opposing immigration reform, King comes from a very white district with few foreign-born residents (95.8% White, 0.8% Black, 1.1% Asian, 2.5% Hispanic, 0.2% Native American, per Wikipedia).

The group doesn't speak for all Republicans in the House, however.

More moderate voices like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) are supporting a House immigration reform bill that is expected to include legalization for undocumented immigrants.

But as a bill moves forward, expect the conservative border hawks to make some noise.

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Lone-Wolf Senators

Similar to the House, some of the Republicans in the Senate who have been most outspoken about the immigration bill come from states with few foreign-born residents.

Put Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Charles Grassley (Iowa) at the top of that list. On the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the immigration bill is currently going through the process of adding amendments, Sessions and Grassley are the strongest voices against immigration, both legal and illegal.

But most of what they've offered has fallen flat. One Sessions amendment to cap the number of new legal immigrants at 33 million over the next 10 years was voted down 17-1.

But between the two of them, they've offered 126 amendments, more than a third of the total number the committee is considering.

So, at the least, they have the power to slow down the process.

PHOTO: Rush
George Gojkovich/Getty Images
Conservative Talk Show Hosts (A Few of Them)

Another one of the reasons anti-amnesty activism has fallen off this time around: conservative talk radio hosts aren't as angry. At least that's how Remember 1986's Rusty Childress sees it:

"There is some resignation that exists out there, partly because you don't have the talk radio sources, like you did in 2007, really beating the drums," he said. "A lot of them are turncoats."

That makes Sean Hannity the turncoat-in-chief. He made a 180-degree turnaround on immigration after the Republicans got housed in the 2012 presidential election.

In general, conservative talk radio seems to be more moderate on the immigration bill than in the past (or at least that's what I read; I don't have an AM radio).

But one voice is still dissenting on immigration, albeit with uncharacteristic restraint.

In a recent episode transcript entitled, "This Immigration Bill Makes No Sense," Limbaugh expresses doubts about the bill, saying that it's pandering to Hispanics.

"If you do that, if everything you do is 'outreach' to Hispanics, how do you ever tell 'em no?" he said."If the objective is to make Hispanics like you and you turn yourself into Santa Claus, then how do you turn yourself into Scrooge someday when you have to? You can't."

But Limbaugh won't go as far as dissing the Republican authors of the bill. During the same show, he called Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) a "force of nature," who still, somehow, supports immigration reform.

"Folks, he is a genuine conservative and full-throatedly, full-heartedly, wholeheartedly believes in it," Limbaugh said. "He really does. The bill itself, however? I'm never gonna understand it."

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