WASHINGTON -- Latino leaders gave a warning Wednesday to members of Congress who oppose comprehensive immigration reform: voters are watching, and they won't forget how lawmakers act on the issue next time they go to the polls.
Eight Latino groups will soon begin a campaign to pressure politicians from both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, they announced. And they're confident they can succeed, given increased political interest after the 2012 election.
"Immigration reform will happen," Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said at a press conference Wednesday. "Whether it will happen over the political bodies ... of some of the current members of Congress, only they can decide. They will come to vote for immigration reform."
"They can come out of their own will because it's the right thing to do or they can come kicking and screaming, but they will come," Medina continued. "I guarantee that."
The groups -- National Council of La Raza, Service Employees International Union, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Mi Familia Vota, Voto Latino, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Hispanic Federation and NALEO Educational Fund -- plan to bring their members and supporters to Washington in 2013 in order to push lawmakers on immigration reform. They will also launch letter-writing campaigns, petitions and actions to encourage support.
Among the groups' biggest threats, though, is a plan to keep scorecards for politicians, tracking their immigration votes and statements. They promised to widely publicize the scores within the Latino community next time those lawmakers are up for reelection.
"It's up to us to teach our community that now that they went to the ballot box, it's okay to ask for something in return," Voto Latino CEO and president Maria Teresa Kumar said. "If [politicians] are not with us, 2014 may not look too pretty for them."
A strong majority of Latino voters support comprehensive immigration reform, and a number of Republicans changed their stance on the issue after the 2012 elections, when Latino voters came out in record numbers to support President Barack Obama.
Still, some Republicans argue that immigration reform must be done in a piecemeal fashion. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who many expect to help lead a reform effort within the Senate, has said the issue should be addressed in a set of bills rather than comprehensively, as has Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), a potential leader in the House.
But the coalition leaders strongly rejected the idea of breaking up immigration issues.
"I can tell you here that all of these leaders, including myself, are very committed to having one comprehensive immigration reform bill, and that is going to be key," National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguia said to applause from the other group leaders on stage.
They said they will target both Democrats and Republicans, but the GOP may be more likely to get the brunt of their efforts. Murguia declined to say who would top the list, but said they will speak to members who supported comprehensive immigration reform in the past, those who are from districts with a large number of Latinos and those who are new to Congress.
She said she expects a bill to come up before the August congressional recess next year.
Their biggest hope, though, is that both parties can be pressured to finally agree on immigration reform.
"We welcome everybody into this battle, Republicans and Democrats," Medina said. "By god, maybe they could get a kumbaya moment."
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