Georgians pressure Congress on immigration legislation

Georgians on both sides of the debate about overhauling the nation’s immigration laws are ratcheting up pressure on the Senate as it prepares to begin voting on the hot-button issue perhaps as soon as next month.

On Tuesday, a coalition of tea party groups, conservative commentators and others from Georgia and across the nation released an open letter opposing the massive immigration bill now pending in the Senate. The coalition also disclosed a website it had created to fight Senate Bill 744,

The letter calls on U.S. senators to oppose the 844-page bill, saying it would reward lawbreakers, hurt American job seekers and threaten to “bankrupt our already strained entitlement system.”

Meanwhile, several immigrant rights groups based in Georgia are training people how to lobby their congressmen and urging voters to call their senators in support of the legislation.

Their efforts follow a boisterous march last month through downtown Atlanta, where an estimated 1,500 activists demonstrated in support of creating a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

Among other things, the Senate bill seeks to offer that pathway to citizenship while tightening border security and allowing employers to hire more foreign workers. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill Tuesday, setting up a possible floor vote next month. A bipartisan group in the House is crafting its own bill.

Numerous conservative stalwarts are among the 150 individuals and organizations that have signed on to the letter opposing the legislation. Among them are Gary Bauer of the Campaign for Working Families PAC; nationally syndicated talk show host Laura Ingraham; and Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots.

Several Georgia-based tea party groups and conservative organizations have also signed the letter, including Georgia Conservatives in Action, the Carroll County Tea Party Association and the Dustin Inman Society, which supports the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

“Many of us support various parts of the legislation but the overall package is so unsatisfactory that the Senate would do better to start over from scratch,” their letter says.

That letter follows Monday’s release of a statement from the head of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, the union representing 12,000 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ employees. In his statement, Kenneth Palinkas, the union’s president, detailed numerous concerns about the Senate legislation, saying it would “damage public safety and national security and should be opposed by lawmakers.”

Teodoro Maus, former president of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, was among those who attended the march in Atlanta last month. He and others plan to travel to Washington Thursday to meet with legislators.

“It’s economic and political suicide what these anti-immigration organizations are doing,” said Maus, a former Mexican consul general in Atlanta.

The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials has been working to boost support for the bill by urging the state’s business leaders and law enforcement officials to get on board with it.

“The momentum is great to get something done,” said Jerry Gonzalez, the association’s executive director. “And we have been doing our work here in Georgia to make sure we do bring our U.S. senators and some of our congressional representatives along to support those efforts.”