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Immigration Advocates Target Senate’s ‘Gang of Eight’

Labor unions, Latino organizations and human rights groups are launching a nationwide grass-roots lobbying campaign to urge Congress — particularly members of the Senate’s immigration working group — to include a path to citizenship for undocumented workers in any immigration rewrite.

The effort includes broadcast advertisements — the first of which is bankrolled by the Service Employees International Union — and a 19-state bus tour beginning Feb. 25. The coalition will also host eight rallies during the Presidents Day recess in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Texas.

Six of those states are represented by the eight members of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration working group, who have been attempting to draft immigration legislation that they hope can win significant support from both sides of the aisle. The group hopes to unveil its bill next month.

Democratic members include Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York, Richard J. Durbin or Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Michael Bennet of Colorado. Republican members of the group include Sens. John McCain or Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

A bipartisan group in the House is also meeting on the issue.

“The message to Congress is very simple,” said Eliseo Medina, international secretary-treasurer at the Service Employees International Union, who was on the conference call. “Latinos who helped deliver a mandate for common-sense immigration reform in November’s election are going to keep raising their voices as Congress begins the debate.”

“We expect Congress to pass a bill with a fair, clear and direct path to citizenship without any ifs or buts, roadblocks or unreasonable waiting periods that are designed to delay and deny citizenship,” Medina continued. “And if they don’t do that, we will make sure that voters in 2014 know who championed reforms and who stood in the way.”

The principles issued last month by the bipartisan Senate group call for undocumented immigrants to jump through a number of hoops before being granted even “probationary legal status.” For example, the group would require current undocumented immigrants to pass a background check, pay fines and pay back taxes before earning a provisional status that allows them to live and work in the United States. They would mandate that those immigrants also “go to the back of the line” as they apply for a green card and would require them to pass another background check, learn English, take civics education and prove they have worked in the U.S. before a green card could be granted.

The SEIU invested $250,000 in the initial ad, a Spanish-language radio spot asking Latinos to call their lawmakers. It will run Tuesday through Sunday in 25 states.

Speaking on the conference call with reporters Tuesday, leaders of the coalition, dubbed the New Alliance for Citizenship, declined to weigh in on a White House plan that would allow illegal immigrants to become permanent residents within eight years.

“It’s clear to say we are supportive of moving forward in that direction,” said Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, referring to President Barack Obama’s plan, the details of which leaked over the weekend. “But I don’t think we want to comment with great specificity right now.”

She urged lawmakers to quickly introduce a bill.

Republicans, including Rubio, said they would not support the White House proposal because it did not include requirements to strengthen border security or a guest worker program, a Rubio aide said in a statement Tuesday.

The aide also said the Florida Republican had not been in contact with the White House and that the proposal did not reflect the agreement reached by the “gang of eight.”

The New Alliance for Citizenship includes the AFL-CIO as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center, Church World Service and the Center for American Progress.