Mem­bers of Congress’ phones busy, fer­vor high on im­mi­gra­tion over­haul

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Eric Pfeif­fer

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia says the pub­lic emo­tion surg­ing around ef­forts to over­haul the na­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy is the great­est she has seen since her 1992 elec­tion.

The Demo­crat said the topic hasn’t trans­lated into the 30,000plus phone calls to her of­fice that would mean “some­thing is re­ally go­ing on” in the na­tion’s most pop­u­lous state, but the en­thu­si­asm of opin­ion is fer­vent.

“We’re deal­ing with an is­sue about which peo­ple have very strong, very deeply set views,” Mrs. Fe­in­stein said.

She said most of the nearly 8,000 calls her of­fice has fielded have been “very hos­tile and very neg­a­tive” de­spite polls that show up to 80 per­cent of Cal­i­for­ni­ans sup­port le­gal­iz­ing “un­doc­u­mented work­ers.”

From the West­ern border states to the heart­land and the East Coast, law­mak­ers are be­ing flooded with con­stituent calls as the Se­nate con­sid­ers mech­a­nisms for grant­ing cit­i­zen­ship to some of the es­ti­mated 12 mil­lion to 20 mil­lion il­le­gal aliens in the United States and ways to im­prove border se­cu­rity and the na­tion’s guest­worker pro­gram.

The of­fice of Sen. Johnny Isak­son, Ge­or­gia Repub­li­can, says it has re­ceived sev­eral thou­sand calls, the ma­jor­ity from peo­ple op- pos­ing what they call “amnesty” for aliens who en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally. Nearly all 5,000 call­ers to Mr. Isak­son’s of­fice ex­pressed dis­ap­proval of the Se­nate plan.

“We’re still get­ting calls on other top­ics, such as Iraq, gas prices and hate crimes, but th­ese top­ics are gen­er­at­ing less than a dozen calls each per day,” said Isak­son spokes­woman Joan Kirch­ner.

A staffer for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Repub­li­can, says: “The phones have been off the hook.”

The pres­sure on leg­is­la­tors mounted im­me­di­ately af­ter a bi­par­ti­san group of sen­a­tors an­nounced their in­ten­tions on im­mi­gra­tion re­form two weeks ago. Law­mak­ers ex­pected to get an ear­ful from con­stituents when they went home for the Me­mo­rial Day re­cess.

In­ter­est groups on both sides of the de­bate mo­bi­lized quickly and are gird­ing for a leg­isla­tive bat­tle that will last sev­eral more weeks.

“Now that this agree­ment has left the back­room and is sub­ject to the leg­isla­tive process, we be­lieve we will have op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove it in both the Se­nate and the House,” said Janet Mur­guia, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Coun­cil of La Raza, a His­panic rights group.

On May 24, the coun­cil sent out an alert ask­ing sup­port­ers to lobby their sen­a­tors against two amend­ments that would tighten re­stric­tions and for an amend­ment that would ex­pand fam­ily im­mi­gra­tion.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Ari­zona Republi- can and an ar­chi­tect of the leg­is­la­tion, said he has taken a po­lit­i­cal hit from con­stituents in his border state.

How­ever, he said, “If you’ve al­ways got your fin­ger up in the air mea­sur­ing the par­ti­san pol­i­tics, you’re not go­ing to get any­thing done.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Whip Trent Lott, Mis­sis­sippi Repub­li­can, said most law­mak­ers in his party op­pose the bill in its cur­rent form but that the is­sue is not heated in his home state.

“Peo­ple in my state have a lit­tle dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude to­ward im­mi­grants be­cause they’ve been sav­ing our skin” by pro­vid­ing in­ex­pen­sive la­bor for post-Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina re­con­struc­tion, he said.

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