The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

May 6, 2013

Could immigration bill set off another backlash?

— WASHINGTON (AP) — As a Senate committee prepares to begin voting this week on far-reaching immigration legislation, advocates are watching warily to see whether relatively tame opposition balloons into the kind of fierce resistance that killed Congress' last attempt to overhaul the system.

Last time around, in 2007, angry calls overwhelmed the Senate switchboard and lawmakers endured raging town hall meetings and threats from incensed constituents. The legislation ultimately collapsed on the Senate floor.

"I've been through this battle, and it's ugly," said former Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who supported the bill. "My phones were jammed for three weeks and I got three death threats, one of which I turned over to the FBI. So it's rough business."

Supporters of the immigration bill brought forward last month by a group of four Republican and four Democratic senators have been cautiously optimistic about their prospects because of factors including public support for giving citizenship to immigrants, a large and diverse coalition in support of the bill, and a growing sentiment among Republican leaders that immigration must be dealt with if they are to regain the backing of Hispanic voters.

Backers have been working hard to build alliances and strategies aimed at avoiding the mistakes of 2007, when critics largely defined the bill and some supporters ended up turning against it.

Opponents acknowledge that supporters started out better organized and mobilized than last time around, and they also anticipate that outside groups pushing the legislation — including efforts headed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — will outspend them. Supporters include large and influential groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO and the Catholic Church, while opponents include lesser-known think tanks or advocacy organizations such as NumbersUSA, the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies. Both sides have already begun running ads.

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