Turning up the Heat on Congress Over Summer Recess

shutterstock_13720372August recess  is in full swing, and the plans to show Congress how badly Americans want immigration reform “back home” are well under way.  While August is always a time to remind Members of Congress about crucial issues, this year’s immigration events, meetings, and rallies are occurring at a time when Members of Congress, particularly House Republicans, are seriously re-examining their positions on immigration.   This may be the most critical month for capturing the hearts and minds of House Members.

By all accounts, it appears that things are off to a good start. The Alliance for Citizenship is staging events in 52 different congressional districts, including a Caravan through California on August 14th that will end in the hometown of House Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Bakersfield.  Already, events have taken place across the country, including Iowa, Colorado, Texas, North Carolina, Utah, and California.  In contrast,  opponents of reform are finding it more difficult to generate support, dismissing the need for major actions.  The leader of Tea Party Nation maintains  that  “Big rallies will do nothing to change Congress’ mind on amnesty,” arguing that they will win the day with one-on-one conversations with representatives.

It is more likely, however, that the “amnesty” card and immigrant bashing are just not playing well this summer. This was reflected in a Des Moines, Iowa rally at the end of July , where 260 reform advocates outnumbered the 20 opponents.  The event, staged in Rep. Steve King’s district, directly responded to King’s assertions that young immigrants were drug mules and criminals.  Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who spoke at the Des Moines event, remarked “We Iowans are a welcoming people…We believe that people who come here to build a better life are not criminals.”

Some Members of Congress are getting the jump on advocates, coming out for reform before people have a chance to challenge them.  Just this week,  Congressmen Daniel Webster (R-FL) and Aaron Schock (R-Il) announced support for a path to citizenship, albeit with a lot of caveats.  And Rep. Kevin McCarthy, speaking at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, expressed support for DREAMers, and seemed to concede the need for some type of legalization for undocumented immigrants, while also reinforcing the need for border security.

The August recess events come at a critical time in the effort to achieve immigration reform this year.  As the Washington Post noted, a genuine intellectual struggle appears to be taking place among House Republicans.  Simply dismissing legalization as amnesty no longer works.  People are struggling with more nuanced positions, whether it is Schock’s endorsement of citizenship that follows a long pathway and the completion of security triggers or McCarthy’s willingness to suggest that we have to do something to resolve the status of 11 million people.  August allows Members of Congress, especially wavering Republicans, “to take the temperature of voters before deciding how to act.”

Rallies and noise will let the Members know that people—voters—clearly want reform, including a path to citizenship.  Equally, important, however, is providing Members with rational arguments to help them shed the notion that any type of legalization is “amnesty.”  Business, faith, community leaders, educators, and others have to continue the drumbeat that immigration reform is good for the country, using rallies, meetings, events, and one-on-one conversations to bring the message home.  The events taking places this month encompass a range of approaches and techniques to advocating for reform on the theory that the more voices raised, the better.  It’s clear that Members can be moved to change their minds, which should inspire even more constituents to use the time in August to let their voices be heard.

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