White House builds immigration pact

244c412f-bb8e-4d20-925c-1a661439ab2c.imgThe White House is building a coalition of allies, including labour unions and Hispanic groups, to help generate support for comprehensive immigration reform, capitalising on the grassroots network that helped President Barack Obama defeat Republican Mitt Romney in November.

Although the continued fiscal uncertainty is taking precedence and gun control has been catapulted to the top of the agenda, preparations to launch an all-encompassing immigration bill are proceeding apace.

Groups including the SEIU labour union and voter mobilisation organisations such as Mi Familia Vota are among those preparing to promote comprehensive immigration reform that includes the “big enchilada” of a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11m people in the US illegally.

“2013 is our window of opportunity,” said Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the SEIU, one of the US’s biggest unions, representing healthcare and public service employees.

“We are going to be conducting a very aggressive grassroots campaign to get people to contact their members of Congress and tell them they need to pass immigration reform now. It will be unlike anything we’ve ever done before,” he told the Financial Times.

Mr Obama already has about a dozen people, led by Cecilia Munoz, his director for domestic policy, working on the issue, along with officials from the departments of homeland security, justice, agriculture and commerce.

The president is likely to make his first big push for immigration reform in his State of the Union address after his inauguration later this month, and officials are preparing a bill that will be ready for introduction in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“We are building a coalition in key states around the country so that when Obama pushes for this, we will be ready to give positive encouragement to weak congressmen or senators,” said another person involved in the White House’s preparations, asking not to be named.

This “positive encouragement” will come in the form of door-knockers urging people to lobby their representatives to support immigration reform, similar to the army of supporters who blitzed the swing states and help Mr Obama score a surprisingly resounding victory in November.

That win was propelled in no small part by support from Hispanic voters, a whopping 71 per cent of whom backed Mr Obama, to Republican Mitt Romney’s 27 per cent.

This was in part the result of Mr Romney’s hostile language during the Republican primary campaign, when he said, if president, he would make conditions so bad for illegal immigrants that they would choose to “self deport”.

At the same time as Mr Obama’s proportion of the Hispanic vote went up, so did the raw number of Latino voters – to more than 12.5m, an increase of almost 30 per cent over 2008, making the group a voting bloc to reckon with.

The coalition of allies will also start compiling scorecards for lawmakers, incorporating not just how they vote on immigration-related issues but also whether they do things such as stopping a vote from taking place, which they hope to distribute to 90 per cent of Latino voters.

“Our goal is to make sure that the community can see who stood with us on immigration reform and who deserves to be finding another job,” Mr Medina said.

Groups involved also include the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the National Council of La Raza and Voto Latino.

As they try to avoid further alienating the US’s fastest growing demographic, Republicans are eager to deal with the issue of immigration reform and get it off the table before the 2014 midterm elections.

That could help its passage through Congress and help repair relations following Mr Romney’s presidential bid.

“This was a big mistake from the start of the Republican primaries, when the candidates had very ugly positions and antagonised Latinos,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and an influential Republican voice on immigration.

“Now we’ve got to get back to the principles of George W. Bush and reclaim this issue,” he said, referring to the former president’s relatively open approach to immigration.

In a Latino Decisions poll taken on the eve of the election, 31 per cent said they would be more likely to vote Republican if the Republican party took a leadership role in supporting comprehensive immigration reform with an eventual pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Financial Times



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