Politics & Policy

Undaunted, Immigration Hawks Meet in D.C. to Plan Their Next Moves

Immigration hawks from around the country flocked to Washington, D.C., for the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s (FAIR) annual “Hold Their Feet to the Fire,” event this week. While the forum is intended to encourage talk show hosts, law enforcement officials, activists, and others to make lawmakers listen, many in attendance sought to reach conservative listeners outside the district.

The mainstream media may have skipped it, but approximately 42 conservative personalities lined radio row at the Phoenix Park Hotel to ‘speak truth to power.’ The words “executive amnesty” seemed to echo throughout the hotel, a constant reminder of President Obama’s unilateral actions deferring the deportation of millions of unauthorized immigrants. But the event’s participants really spat fire when it came to the Republican Party’s tepid response in Congress, which many activists deemed completely inadequate.

“A very palpable change this year in the opinions and focus is there is outrage at the Republican leadership, not the rank-and-file, but the Republican leadership,” says Bob Dane, FAIR’s communication director. “This is everything FAIR has been worried about for 36 years — a rogue president and an apathetic Congress.”

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As a result, Dane says, the two topics most discussed at the event this year appear to be the GOP leadership’s failure to thwart Obama’s executive amnesty and whether any Republican presidential hopeful will lead the way on immigration.

Luis Pozzolo, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Uruguay who immigrated to Kentucky, says he thinks Obama’s actions are a “disaster,” but Kentucky senator Rand Paul has been a “failure” on immigration, too. Pozzolo thinks Texas’s Ted Cruz is the presidential candidate most capable of speaking for immigrants like him, who want their voices heard and America’s immigration laws enforced.

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“I’m tired to listen to Latino people say, ‘These freaking Americans are racist,’” Pozzolo says. “As you can see I am not white, I have my accent, I wasn’t born here, and I’ve never been mistreated by these people [conservatives]. I’ve been treated with more respect by these people than from people for La Raza, for example.” (The National Council of La Raza is one of the largest Hispanic advocacy organizations in the United States, and supports Obama’s executive actions.)

Several radio show hosts say they come to this event each year to talk immigration because their listeners want it discussed, even if Democrats and Republicans in Congress do not. Joyce Kaufman, a South Florida talk-radio host, has attended the “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” event since it began nine years ago because of how it mobilizes her audience.

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“I look at the first “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” as what got my audience from listening in their cars to calling the Capitol switchboard, and once I was able to get them to do that they haven’t stopped,” Kaufman says. “Sometimes the mood [at the event] is more hopeful; this is probably the saddest I’ve ever felt, the most helpless I’ve ever felt. It seems as though I have an executive branch that has convinced itself it has the power to rewrite laws.”

#related#Other attendees felt pain and sorrow because of the consequences of illegal immigration as well. An illegal immigrant killed the son of Jamiel Shaw, an African American man from Los Angeles, CA., in 2008. Getting up from an interview with WJR’s Frank Beckmann, the longtime former voice of University of Michigan football, Shaw says his community is aware of his son’s death, but does not want to hear the story of a promising black football player killed by an illegal immigrant.

“In the black community it’s more that he needed to be killed by somebody white, that’s just how it is,” Shaw says. “You got to be white or the white police, then they’ll move on it.”

The activists in attendance at the Phoenix Park appear prepared to do whatever it takes to spark congressional action against amnesty. Next year, Dane says, FAIR may move the event to America’s southern border in Texas or Arizona. And McAllen, Texas, ground zero of last summer’s border crisis, is in the running to host a presidential debate next year as well. As 2016 approaches, these conservatives are determined to make immigration a decisive issue, even if their representatives in Congress would prefer to change the subject.

“The guys down the street [in Congress] don’t want to talk about immigration, they want to talk about campaigns only, but oftentimes they get here and hope we go away,” says Jimmy Lakey, a Colorado talk-radio host. “But it’s a topic that the listeners and the folks want to talk about and it’s a hot topic.”

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