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