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Groups mobilize to pressure lawmakers to act on immigration reform

Plans include a march in Washington, a texting drive, 'tacos for justice' coupons and score cards for lawmakers' votes on immigration issues. 'The time for promises is over,' an organizer says.

March 18, 2010|By Teresa Watanabe

Frustrated at the White House and Congress, immigrant advocates are rolling out a series of pressure tactics to push forward legalization for illegal immigrants and other reforms.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to march Sunday in Washington, D.C., urging officials to act on legislative reforms or face the consequences -- including a possible Latino voter backlash in November.

Activists plan to launch texting and "tacos for justice" campaigns Friday to raise money for the reform campaign. And next week, leaders from nine national Latino organizations plan to unveil their first-ever score card on congressional immigration votes.

In recent months, activists have grown increasingly critical of the Obama administration and Democratic legislative leaders for failing to uphold campaign promises to legalize most of the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, provide more family visas and enact other reforms.

"People are frustrated and disappointed," said Angela Sanbrano of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities. "The message of the march is that the time for promises is over and we want concrete action."

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said Obama's commitment to reform remains "unwavering." He said the president recently met to discuss the issue with both grassroots community leaders and the two men forging a bipartisan Senate bill, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

"The President is optimistic that their efforts will contribute to a favorable climate for moving forward," Shapiro said in an e-mail.

Others, however, say that pushing legalization at a time of high unemployment would be "political suicide."

"We have 15 million Americans unemployed and looking for jobs," said Rosemary Jenks of NumbersUSA, a Virginia-based organization that supports immigration restrictions. "There's absolutely no question that economically this is not the time for amnesty. This is a time to reduce foreign worker competition."

To raise money for the reform drive, Latino organizations plan to launch texting and taco-coupon campaigns Friday.

By texting "reforma" to 20222, participants will authorize a $5 donation and send House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) a message to move on legislation. Organizers hope to get 100,000 such texts. The "tacos for justice" coupons will give users a 10% discount on selected items at more than 40 Los Angeles-area taco trucks and restaurants; the participating food vendors will donate up to $1 for each coupon received to the reform campaign, according to Antonio Gonzalez of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a public policy analysis organization.

If a comprehensive bill addressing legalization, family visas, enforcement and guest workers proves politically impossible to push forward this year, activists say they want a "down payment" with smaller reform bills. Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, said they could include bills to grant legal status to undocumented college students and farm workers; allow partners of gay, lesbian and transgender people to qualify as spouses for immigration privileges; and bar states and local governments from enacting laws directed at immigrants.

Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network is considering a possible consequence of continued legislative inaction: He may withhold his vote from any politician who fails to support reform. But he hoped Congress would realize that legalization would benefit the economy and support those who provide services for so many Americans.

"I find it hard to believe that Americans don't like their gardeners and nannies," he said. "They need to support the people who keep their gardens green and their homes painted."

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Peter Nicholas in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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