In the days leading up to the Senate vote on immigration reform, calls were pouring into lawmakers’ offices daily – sometimes by the hundreds – urging them not to vote for the measure.
In interviews with various media, staffers for the lawmakers expressed exasperation over the endlessly ringing telephones.
Roy Beck, and his organization, NumbersUSA, had succeeded in getting their attention.
Though the Senate ultimately passed the bill, with just enough Republicans to give it a comfortable bump over the 60 needed votes, Beck said he’s optimistic that his organization will succeed in defeating an all-out congressional embrace of the measure.
“Every single Republican is hearing from their grassroots,” Beck told Fox News Latino. “They have to say, for them, does the corporate wing or the wage-earning wing [of the Republican Party] prevail?”
He was carrying the water, he was going to vote for it. But we broke the top guy, we broke [Sen. Mitch] McConnell in the end.
- Roy Beck, founder of NumbersUSA, about immigration reform in 2007
"We had to create a citizen army," he said, "to compete with corporate lobbying for immigration reform."
Unlike the Senate, where the Democrats hold a majority, the House has a Republican majority, and a solid, determined conservative base with the GOP.
Some House Republicans have said they will not support a path to legal status, particularly if there is not an ironclad border security and interior enforcement plan in place first.
“What we will be trying to persuade Republican representatives about,” Beck said “is that the last thing Republicans running for re-election need is to look like they’re caving in to the Senate bill.”
“This year is going to be a repeat of 2006,” said Beck, recalling when the Senate passed an immigration measure, but the House did not, and the effort died.
“You had a Senate that was big on amnesty, and a House with a Republican majority that was absolutely opposed to it.”
In no small part because of Beck, and NumbersUSA.
Back then, Beck and his group – which has grown from 12,000 members in 2001 to some 2 million today – went all out to shame legislators who were supporting a pathway to legal status, which the former journalist and policy analyst condemns as amnesty, a reward for lawbreakers.
Today, proponents of strict immigration enforcement see Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who got his greatest boost from the Tea Party, as one of their their biggest turncoats.
In the last major effort at comprehensive immigration reform, it was U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican from Kentucky, who was on the verge of supporting it in 2007. But after bruising, relentless criticism from Beck’s group, and others who opposed a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, voted against it.
“He and Trent Lott were considered conservatives who were carrying the water for George Bush,” said Beck, noting the Bush was urging his party colleagues to support comprehensive immigration reform. “So we advertised against them, in their states, Mississippi and Kentucky. [Sen. Trent] Lott was retiring, he wasn’t going to seek re-election, but McConnell was facing election in the following year.”
“He was carrying the water, he was going to vote for it,” Beck said, “but we broke the top guy, we broke McConnell in the end.”
Things are different this time around, Beck conceded.
Hispanics are more powerful than they ever have been, and there is a Democrat in the Oval Office who is pressuring his party colleagues to vote for immigration reform for loyalty reasons, Beck said.
“It was a very uphill fight in the Senate,” Beck said, “but the wind is all at our back.”
“We’re going to have to fight hard, we’re not going to sit back and take it easy,” he said.
His organization is working on ad campaigns and mobilizing its members, whom he calls “activists,” to bombard their lawmakers with appeals not to support a path to legal status and to oppose expanding guest worker visas.
“Amnesty is a minor part, actually, of the Senate bill,” he said. “The main part is foreign workers brought legally into this country. It’s corporate special interest that wants these foreign workers, and we will be helping Republicans understand that they need to work for the working people, not the corporations.”
Part of the strategy to pushing Republicans not to support the more liberal parts of immigration reform is to frame the narrative, and Beck and his group are also front and center in drafting the talking points.
They are arguing that legalizing undocumented immigrants and expanding guest worker visas is detrimental to Latinos, because it is they who have one of the highest unemployment rates and would lose jobs and job opportunities to increased immigration.
“One of the fastest ways to move Hispanics out of poverty is to tighten the labor market,” Beck said, “to reduce immigration.”
Take Italians, he said.
“Italians were a huge poverty group, not making progress economically, at first,” he said. “In 1921, Congress cut immigration, and Italians moved into the middle class. That is what we tell Republicans they can promise Hispanics, that’s how they can appeal to them, to Hispanic voters.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente