By David Olson Press Enterprise
With the future of a comprehensive immigration-reform bill
now in the hands of the House of Representatives, immigrant, Latino and Asian-American activists are preparing for a major lobbying push in August, when members of Congress return to their districts.
Three Inland Republicans are among their targets: Reps. Ken Calvert, of Corona, Paul Cook, of Yucca Valley, and Gary Miller of Rancho Cucamonga.
Neither Miller, who in the past was a leading congressional voice against illegal immigration, nor first-term congressman Cook has decided whether they would support a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the country illegally, the top goal for immigrant-rights groups. Calvert is against citizenship eligibility for adults but is open to supporting it for some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.
Inland activists are requesting August meetings with all three congressmen, ramping up voter-registration drives and going door-to-door to talk with residents.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino is inviting all Inland members of Congress to a Mass next month as part of a Catholic Church effort to enact an immigration-system overhaul with a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
Several demonstrations are planned in the next few weeks. On Friday, July 26, about 70 people, including a Catholic bishop, gathered outside Miller’s Rancho Cucamonga office and called on him to support a path to citizenship. About 20 counter-protesters called for strict enforcement of immigration laws and asked Miller to stick with his longtime anti-illegal-immigration positions. Some of the counter-demonstrators plan to meet next month with Inland members of Congress or their staffs.But most anti-illegal-immigration efforts have been more low-profile, focusing primarily on sending hundreds of thousands of constituent emails and faxes to congressional offices.
“I don’t know if demonstrations are particularly effective,” said Roy Beck, executive director of Virginia-based NumbersUSA, which people on both sides of the issue credited with helping to stop a 2007 immigration-overhaul bill by flooding Capitol Hill with voter opposition.
Immigrant-rights groups believe that events that feature speeches by undocumented immigrants and their families can influence members of Congress, as can constituent lobbying, voter registration and other strategies being planned for August.
“The next six, seven, eight weeks are critical for the immigrant-rights movement,” said Dawn Le, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Citizenship, a national umbrella organization for dozens of groups that is helping coordinate the August push.
The Senate last month approved an immigration bill with a path to citizenship and stepped-up border security, but getting the bill through the GOP-controlled House is viewed as an uphill battle.
Immigrant-rights groups in August are focusing especially on Republican House members whose districts have significant Latino populations. Calvert, Cook and Miller represent districts that are between a third and half Latino.
Cook and Miller are among the congressmen on the priority list of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said Max Sevillia, director of policy and legislative affairs for the group. The organization is urging local Latino elected officials to meet with the congressmen to push for a path to citizenship, he said.
Cook and Calvert represent safe Republican districts. Miller, though, is in a Democratic-leaning San Bernardino County district that is half Latino, so immigrant and Latino groups have focused especially on him.
Inland Congregations United for Change next month will redouble its immigration-reform efforts in Miller’s district with door-to-door visits with constituents, said Karen Borja, an organizer for the group. Those in support of a path to citizenship will be handed a cell phone to connect with Miller’s office, she said.
Miller is one of two California members of Congress that the six-state Latino voter-registration effort Mi Familia Vota is concentrating on in August.
Mi Familia Vota views Miller as politically vulnerable, said Lizette Escobedo, a spokeswoman for the group.
“Gary Miller’s stands don’t make sense for the demographics of his district,” Escobedo said. Among other things, she referred to Miller’s vote last month to authorize deportations of young undocumented immigrants now protected by an Obama administration program that covers many of those who arrived in the United States as children.
MORE THAN 30 MEETINGS
Miller’s offices have been barraged over the past several months with petitions, letters and phone calls on immigration. Friday’s demonstration was the latest of a number held in recent months.
The congressman and his staff members have had more than 30 meetings this year with people on both sides of the immigration issue, said Miller’s district director, Chris Marsh.
After Friday’s demonstration in front of Miller’s office, activists presented Marsh with cards in support of a path to citizenship from what they said are 1,600 district residents.
As he opened Friday’s event, Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego of the San Bernardino diocese urged Miller to support a path to citizenship to reunite families torn apart by deportations and to help those who have been trying in vain for a decade or more to immigrate legally.
But nearby, Vicky Arzaga-Chapman, 64, of Rancho Cucamonga, carried a sign that said “Uphold Our Laws.”
Arzaga-Chapman legally emigrated from the Philippines when she was 3. She qualified because her father fought with U.S. forces in World War II.
“This is a country of immigrants,” she said. “But we’re a nation of laws.”
Marsh said Miller will continue to gather information on immigration proposals from constituents but will insist on strong border-security and job-protection provisions in any legislation.
The congressman is especially sympathetic to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, Marsh said.
Miller previously expressed those sentiments, so his vote last month to strip deportation protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants frayed the congressman’s relationship with immigrant-rights activists.
“The community is saying that we don’t know if we can trust him,” said Luz Gallegos, community programs director for TODEC Legal Center in Perris.
A statement from Miller’s office said the congressman voted against the Obama administration program because he believes the president does not have the power to bar deportation of anyone in the country illegally.
In the meetings that TODEC and other groups are trying to set up next month with Miller and other Inland members of Congress, undocumented immigrants would be among those invited.
“We want them to see the faces of people and hear the stories of people in their districts,” Gallegos said. “This is what leads to change.”
But Beck, of the anti-illegal-immigration group NumbersUSA, said members of Congress are swayed by registered voters in their districts. Those in the country illegally can’t vote.
NumbersUSA has assembled a base of about 2 million people who have signed up with to call, email or fax their members of Congress, he said.
Jay Sander, 42, a Miller constituent from Redlands, said he has lobbied the congressman repeatedly through NumbersUSA to remain firm in his positions on immigration, citing his concern of depressed wages and job losses if millions of immigrants become eligible for green cards. Economists differ on what effect legalization would have on jobs and salaries.