The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

May 1, 2013

Immigration debate gives life to annual rallies

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Social media and text messaging have emerged as indispensable tools for advocates of a sweeping immigration overhaul, but street marches have an enduring allure.

Tens of thousands are expected to rally in dozens of cities from New York to Bozeman, Mont., on Wednesday in what has become an annual cry for easing the nation's immigration laws. The rallies carry a special sense of urgency this year, two weeks after a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would bring many of the estimated 11 million living in the U.S. illegally out of the shadows.

"The invisible become visible on May 1," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, which is organizing what was expected to be the nation's largest rally.

The May Day crowds were not expected to approach the massive demonstrations of 2006 and 2007, during the last serious attempt to introduce major changes to the U.S. immigration system. Despite the large turnouts, many advocates of looser immigration laws felt they were outmaneuvered by opponents who flooded congressional offices with phone calls and faxes at the behest of conservative talk-radio hosts.

Now, immigrant advocacy groups are focusing heavily on calling and writing members of Congress, sometimes targeting specific lawmakers at key moments in the debate. Reform Immigration for America, a network of groups, claims more than 1.2 million subscribers, including recipients of text messages and Facebook followers.

A text-message blast during a key vote in 2010 on legislation to provide legal status to many who came to the country as children resulted in 75,000 phone calls to members of Congress in two days, said Jeff Parcher, communications director for the Center for Community Change, which works on technology-driven advocacy for the network of groups.

A phone blitz targeting Sen. Orrin Hatch produced 100 calls a day to the Utah lawmaker's office last week, Parcher said. After Hatch was quoted Sunday in The Salt Lake Tribune saying immigration reform couldn't wait, a message went out to call his office with thanks.

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