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Monied Lobbying Forces Gird for Immigration Reform Battle

Cassandra LaRussa

Hundreds of lobbyists are primed to swarm Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of a wide variety of business interests and ideological groups, all of which have a stake in immigration reform policy.

Wall Street certainly stonewalls Washington
during financial reform battles. Big oil mobilizes in the face of energy
legislation. Insurance companies set up camp in the capital during the
health care debate.

But hundreds of lobbyists are primed to swarm Capitol Hill to
advocate on behalf of a wide variety of business interests and
ideological groups, all of which have a stake in immigration reform
policy – Congress' focus du jour. In 2009, 338
companies and organizations
spent money to influence federal
legislation regarding immigration, according to a Center for Responsive Politics

With the recent passage of an Arizona state immigration bill, the
issue of immigration reform has again been catapulted into the national
spotlight. Long considered a potential
subject of federal legislation
, Senate Majority Leader Harry
(D-Nev.) recently
that immigration reform legislation an urgent priority,
calling for a bill to be sent straight to the Senate floor --
potentially trumping other pressing initiatives, such as climate change

The usual suspects for immigration lobbying -- vocal ideological
groups on either side of the immigration debate – are preparing for this
legislative fight.

In support of immigrant rights and some degree of illegal
immigrant amnesty are groups such as National
Council of La Raza
, National
Immigration Forum
and ImmigrationWorks
. Each of these organizations has experienced a definite
increase in lobbying expenditures in recent years.

National Council of La Raza, an established and continuously growing
force in human rights lobbying, spent $580,000 in 2009. National
Immigration Forum is quickly asserting its own lobbying presence, too. A
substantial increase in lobbying expenditures in 2009 brought the
group's spending up to $226,000. ImmigrationWorks USA only began
lobbying in 2008, but its 2009 expenditures were six times that of its
2008 expenditures. Amnesty
International USA
, though advocating for a wide range of human
rights, spent more than $1 million lobbying in 2009.

In opposition to the kind of immigration reform many Democrats are
proposing are several vocal organizations that emphasize border
protection and national security.

Lobbying expenditures of the Federation
for American Immigration Reform
reached $390,000 in 2009, the
highest amount since 2000.
also experienced a significant increase in lobbying in 2008 and 2009
after minimal lobbying expenses during the earlier part of the decade.
Although there are fewer anti-reform organizations lobbying on the
issue, these groups have been steadily increasing their federal

It is not just ideological groups, however, that lobby on immigration

Companies in the technology, entertainment, agribusiness and
construction industries also have a significant interest in federal
immigration policy. And while ideological groups are often non-profits
with limited resources, these large companies have the money to back up
their policy concerns. Although there is no way to assign a dollar
figure to the amount of money a company spends while lobbying on an
individual political issue -- immigration among them -- it's clear that
they have significant money available to influence federal legislation.


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According to a Center for
Responsive Politics
analysis of federal records, the company that
filed the most reports regarding immigration was Microsoft,
a technology giant that spent $6.7 million on lobbying in 2009.
Microsoft is also a major
political contributor
to federal candidates and political
committees. People and political action committees associated with
Microsoft also ranked within the top 10 contributors to the 2008
presidential campaign of John
(R-Ariz.). Microsoft and other computer and technology
companies such as Oracle
and the Entertainment
Software Association
have an interest in immigrants as potential
employees and seek changes to immigration policy regarding workers of
different skill levels.

Numerous organizations in the entertainment industry also lobby on
immigration. The U.S.
Travel Association
’s 2009 expenditures, for example, are  more than
four times the amount of the group's 2008 total. And the American
Hotel and Lodging Association
also experienced an unprecedented
increase in lobbying between 2007 and 2008. Again, these companies have
an interest in immigration reform for employment purposes.

The same goes for members of the agribusiness community. Many farms
and food processing plants rely on immigrant labor to keep costs down.
The National
Chicken Council
, National
Milk Producers Federation
and Western
Growers Association
all lobbied on immigration, as did
construction/landscaping companies such as the American
Nursery and Landscape Association
, National
Roofing Contractors Association
and Associated
Builders and Contractors

advocates for immigration reform that does not deport current illegal
immigrants but adjusts their working status. The AFL-CIO spent $3.8
million overall on lobbying in 2009. Another prominent labor
organization in immigration lobbying is the Service
Employees International Union
. If its website is any indication –
on it, SEIU calls the new Arizona law “despicable” – this
union could also prove to be a major player in federal immigration
reform debates.

The new Arizona law that sparked the focus on immigration reform
allows the police to stop anyone for whom they have a “reasonable
suspicion” that the person is an illegal immigrant. If the person does
not have the proper paperwork, they can be arrested.

Supporters of the law, such as McCain, say that this bill will help
prevent crime. 

The lobbying activity by ideological organizations, interested
businesses and trade organizations is almost certain to increase as a
result of immigration reform’s new priority designation.

But the potential legislation is not only attracting the attention of
lobbyists. The biggest obstacle to an immigration policy decision may
come from discord inside Congress itself.

Some of Reid’s colleagues aren’t pleased that immigration reform is,
effectively, cutting the line. The Senate was poised to consider a new
climate change bill, and a co-author, Sen. Lindsey
(R-S.C.) is threatening
to withdraw his support
for the bipartisan climate legislation if
Congress tackles immigration first. Graham says he believes that Reid’s
agenda shuffling will be detrimental to the passage of both bills.  

Reid’s fellow Democrats, with their eyes on November congressional
elections, are divided on the issue – some are reluctant to take a
stance on such a controversial issue and potentially
make themselves vulnerable
to political defeat.

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