Following the Money as Immigration Reform Heats Up

Tech companies, private prisons and unions are pushing for their interests.

June 13, 2013— -- Here's how you get the votes to pass immigration reform:

Calmly and rationally explain the benefits of revamping our nation's immigration laws to your congressmen, telling the stories of people whose lives have been dramatically impacted by the way the current system works.

Oh, here's another way to do it: spend a ton of money.

See Also: Should We Deport Future Citizens?

With an immigration bill being debated on the Senate floor, the cash continues to flow into lobbying and ads from both supporters and opponents.

Here's where some of that money is being spent:

Tech Lobbying

We know big tech companies want to see this immigration reform bill pass, and giants like Microsoft have led the lobbying on immigration for years.

Now that a bill is moving on Capitol Hill, they're hustling to make sure business-friendly provisions will make it into the deal. The main goal: more visas for foreign tech workers.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that human resources executives from Adobe, Broadcom, Intel and Motorola Solutions were at the Capitol to meet with lawmakers who might vote for the immigration plan.

Some of the more intriguing meetings were with uncommitted Republicans, like Mark Kirk (Illinois) and Rob Portman (Ohio), who they hope to win over to the bill.

In the first three months of the year, seven major tech companies with a vested interest in immigration spent $13.8 million on lobbying, USA Today reported in April. Not all of that went to immigration, but it gives you a sense of the power they wield.

Meanwhile, the National Council of La Raza, a more traditional immigration reform advocate, spent $80,000 in lobbying.

Private Prisons

One way that immigration reform opponents have tried to sink the legislation in the Senate is by saying it's been influenced by special interest groups and corporations.

But conservatives who oppose the legislation in favor of more border enforcement will please another set of interest groups, like the private prison industry.

Immigration laws put into place over the past two decades have increasingly criminalized illegal immigration, and deportations reached record highs during President Obama's first term.

That's meant more federal spending on detaining immigrants as they await a trial or deportation.

Private prison companies like GEO Group have a vested interest in seeing deportations continue. A GEO Group rep said earlier this year that it wouldn't lobby on immigration reform, but a lobbying disclosure form tells a different story, according to The Nation.

A form filed in April shows the company lobbied on "issues related to comprehensive immigration reform."

A spokesman for the company responded to The Nation on June 6:

"Contrary to the assertions made in your story, our statement as well as the disclosure itself stipulate that our company's discussions with lawmakers have been related to the Federal Government's existing Alternatives to Detention program."

But the disclosure form says differently. So there's that.

Ad Buys

To really get support for immigration reform, you need to reach Americans through their most trusted advisor: television.

Labor groups certainly agree with that approach. The Service Employees International Union announced this week that it would be dropping millions on cable television advertisements to support immigration reform.

Groups against the reform bill are also spending on ads, albeit in what appears to be smaller sums.

FAIR, which advocates lower levels of immigration, has spent more than $100,000 on TV ads, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

And the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tanks, is dropping $100,000 for online ads opposing the bill, and making a point to call out one of the bill's supporters, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in particular.