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Immigration supporters won't quit

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By Bloomberg News
Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 8:09 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — Advocates of immigration law changes are prepared to track down lawmakers doing household chores during the monthlong congressional break that begins next week if that's what it takes to get their voices heard.

“If you have a town hall or if you don't, we're going to find you in the grocery store because this is it. We've never been this close,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., one of the chief immigration negotiators in the House.

Opponents of an immigration overhaul are equally ready. At Rep. Karen Bass's two-hour town hall meeting last weekend in Los Angeles, about a dozen small-government Tea Party activists stood among the crowd of 300 to question the wisdom of legalizing undocumented immigrants.

“The problem with my town hall was making sure the opponents could speak without being denounced by all of the supporters in the room,” said Bass, D-Calif.

Both sides are bracing for the unexpected as lawmakers prepare to leave Washington for home. August is typically a time for them to hold public forums and talk to voters — a tradition that became more complicated in 2009, when town halls erupted with Tea Party members blasting President Obama's health care legislation.

This year, immigration could be a flash point, which supporters of change worry could intimidate lawmakers and stall action in the House. The Senate on June 27 approved on a bipartisan vote of 68-32 legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, more worker visas and stricter border security. Leaders of the Republican-controlled House have said they will pursue their own proposals, possibly when they return to Washington in September.

Although polls show public support for a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented — the stickiest immigration issue — some House Republicans are reluctant to take up the issue for fear that it will entice anti-immigration primary challengers in next year's elections. A June poll for Bloomberg News found that 74 percent support allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to become citizens if they pay fines and back taxes, wait more than 10 years and lack criminal records.

To avoid political risk, some Republicans leaders are suggesting members change the subject.

An August planning document by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chairman of the House Republican Conference, suggests coming problems with the health care roll-out and “stopping government abuse” as town hall topics.

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