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Broad Coalition Prods for Action on Immigration

In a week that began with a bipartisan collection of senators unveiling a blueprint for a comprehensive bill and continues Tuesday with an address by President Barack Obama, advocates for a sweeping update of immigration laws say they will take advantage of elected officials’ posturing to press for an outcome this year.

The strategies employed by an unusually diverse coalition of unions, corporations, law enforcement and religious and community groups include praying over biblical passages, registering Latino voters, mobilizing major demonstrations and orchestrating private meetings with members of Congress.

Their common source of leverage is the growing influence of Latino voters, who have made the matter a major priority.

“The amazing part is we now have both parties, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, in a race to figure out who’s leading this thing, and that’s a good place to be,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. Noorani, who called the senators’ outline a powerful starting point for the debate, said he wants Obama to use Tuesday’s address in Las Vegas to “commit to using his bully pulpit pretty powerfully and consistently over the next few months.”

At a Monday morning event at the National Press Club, union leaders and community activists announced plans for an April 10 rally on Capitol Hill to coincide with demonstrations across the country to help build support for immigration legislation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce later endorsed the Senate plan.

“We will march, rally, pray and knock on every door in Congress,” said Mary Kay Henry, the international president of the Service Employees International Union.

“This country has the greatest level of consensus on this issue that we have ever seen,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP.

They won’t be the only forces mobilizing.

Julie Kirchner, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which strongly opposes amnesty for undocumented workers, called the senators’ outline “disappointing” and said it is virtually identical to a failed 2007 effort.

With unemployment and underemployment rates high, Kirchner said, lawmakers should not consider more guest-worker programs. The cost of the proposal is also prohibitive, she argued.

“We are confident that when the American people see what a bad deal this is, not only for them as taxpayers but how it increases competition among workers, they’ll demand that their members of Congress reject it,” she said.

But Galen Carey, vice president of government relations of the National Association of Evangelicals, said his organization was “delighted” with the bipartisan Senate proposal. The evangelicals have urged their followers to download bookmarks that contain 40 Bible passages, which they are to read over the course of 40 days, dealing with hospitality toward strangers. It’s called the “I was a stranger” challenge.

Carey said it was good that the “gang of eight” senators got their proposal out ahead of Obama’s address.

“We don’t want this issue derailed by people feeling they have to oppose something just because the president’s name is on it,” Carey explained.

The evangelicals have not signed on to the April 10 rally but Tim King, the chief communications officer at Sojourners, said they are laying the ground for increased involvement.

Unions and evangelicals agree any bill must include a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers now in the United States to keep families together.

But previewing some of the possible hurdles ahead, Mee Moua, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center, noted that the Senate framework does not cover families with same-sex parents.

Immigration legislation “must be inclusive of all our families,” she said.

Although organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops generally support an immigration overhaul, the bishops oppose equivalent treatment for families with same-sex parents. Some Republican lawmakers have also said they will oppose measures that include a path to citizenship for workers who have come to the country illegally.

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