Mike and Bill Crowder of Charlotte, N.C., attend an anti-immigration reform rally in 2007. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
As a bipartisan group of senators prepares to release a bill that could put as many as 11 million immigrants on a path to legalization and eventual citizenship, opponents of immigration reform—which many opponents refer to as "amnesty"—are trying to recreate the grass-roots backlash that helped kill the last major attempt at changing U.S. immigration law.
So far, the kind of outrage that doomed immigration reform in 2007 seems scarce. Since the November presidential elections, where President Barack Obama drew 71 percent of the Hispanic vote against Republican Mitt Romney, key GOP leaders have insisted the party must embrace reform in order to become more competitive among Hispanics.
It was a far different situation six years ago. On the June 2007 day the Senate was set to vote on the last immigration reform bill—President George W. Bush's top domestic goal—the Capitol phone system was so inundated with outraged calls that the Senate sergeant at arms announced that the switchboard had stopped working entirely.
Republicans who backed the bill, including the party's soon-to-be presidential nominee Arizona Sen. John McCain, faced particularly tough blowback from their constituents, who accused them of betrayal.
Meanwhile, dozens of "Minutemen" groups sprouted up around the country, encouraging thousands of volunteers, many armed, to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to bring attention to illegal crossings and drug trafficking. (The Minutemen movement has since almost entirely died out.)
In the end, the bill died in the Senate with only a handful of Republican senators supporting it.
Two groups at the center of the opposition movement in 2007 are hoping to revive similar grass-roots opposition this time.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is hosting an event called "Hold Their Feet to the Fire" next Thursday in Washington. The group plans to bring in 50 conservative talk radio hosts in a "Radio Row" to blast their opposition to the reform bill over the airwaves.
"It's widely acknowledged that talk radio played a heavy role in the defeat of the McCain-Kennedy bill back [in 2007]," Bob Dane, FAIR's communications director, said. The talk radio hosts will ask their listeners to "flood the Capitol switchboard."
Boston's Howie Karr, whose show is syndicated in New England and New York, is one of the radio hosts expected to join, as is Lars Larson, a nationally syndicated talk radio host based in Oregon. Both are staunch opponents of illegal immigration and any efforts to legalize the status of those who overstayed visas or entered the country illegally.
Dane says about 30 lawmakers and an unspecified number of special guests—including sheriffs from around the country and ranchers from border states—are expected to attend.
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