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As Congress stalls on immigration, a backlash brews

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 8, 2006



CHICAGO

Chicago activists marched 50 miles to House Speaker Dennis Hastert's house last weekend to protest congressional inaction over reforming immigration laws and what they say is his anti-immigrant stance. In Phoenix, protesters rallied at the state's Capitol, also to highlight the stalemate in Washington.

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Bob Johnson is equally exercised. The structural engineer from Buffalo Grove, Ill., argues the other side of 2006's Great Immigration Debate – that the US needs to send home illegal immigrants and gain better control of its borders – but he says he cannot believe Congress is punting on immigration reform. He's been writing letters to his congressman and senators and says he may not vote in November or he may vote for a third-party or write-in candidate.

The decision by congressional leaders not to try to bridge the big gulf between the House and Senate versions of immigration reform, at least not before the November midterm elections, is touching off a backlash that may deliver a sting to some incumbent lawmakers.

How big the backlash grows may not be known until the day after the election, but it's surfacing in blogs, letters to the editor, and record-low approval ratings for Capitol Hill.

"When you have both Bob Novak and David Broder writing the same column about Congress's failure to act on immigration, you know something is wrong," says Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York, referring to two well-known columnists who typically have very different views. "People on both the right and left will see it as a huge failure" if Congress ends its term without a bill.

Certainly, many Americans are worked up over immigration. The issue sparked huge rallies and marches in the spring, and has been the subject of endless Lou Dobbs reports. Over the summer, House leaders held hearings on immigration all over the country.

But now, with inaction on the Hill, some businesses are mobilizing. A few national groups – like the Associated General Contractors of America – say they'll stop campaign contributions to lawmakers who take hard-line stances on immigration controls, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Texas Produce Association has said people may have to get used to an "outsourced" industry, with more growing done in Mexico, if Congress doesn't produce a bill.

"It's frustrating and troubling and bad for the country" that Congress hasn't taken action, says Ray Prewett, executive vice president of the Texas Vegetable Association. He adds that growers need at least a guest-worker program to enable them to harvest their crops. It angers him that Republicans in the House seem to have hardened in their opposition to compromise.

If the backlash to inaction proves to be a big one, it would probably hit Republican lawmakers, who control both houses of Congress, the hardest, observers say. Democrats hope to use that image of a "do-nothing" Congress under Republican leadership. But Republicans have presumably done the math and are calculating that voters who want a crackdown on illegal immigration would rather have no bill than a bill that offers any version of amnesty.

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