Roger Hedgecock of KOGO in San Diego, California remembers a call in the late 1980’s that lit the fire in him on immigration reform. A retired woman was taking about 20 of her friends to the border, to face their cars towards the border and then turn on their headlights. They wanted to “shine a light” on one of the worst parts of the border. The next week she called and asked Roger what HE was going to do.
Since then, Hedgecock has worked on many projects to get the message out. His most recent project is the Hold Their Feet To The Fire XII. This is a listening tour on steroids. FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) partnered with Roger Hedgecock to put the resources together to bring the listening tour to Washington. Thirty-Five talk show hosts brought their programs to radio row at the Phoenix Park Hotel in the shadow of the Capitol and over 500 listeners from all across the country paid about $2000 a piece, out of their own pockets, to lobby their congressmen and senators. This is lobbying the old fashioned way, the way the Founders intended it to be. Constituents talking to legislators about what they want.
They rolled into town on Sunday the 22nd with a rally in Lafayette Park sponsored by the Dustin Inman Society. Many people spoke about enforcing our laws and the disappointment of this mostly Republican group in their president. There are the people who walked the neighborhoods in 2000 and 2004 for George W. Bush and feel betrayed now. These are the folks who are America — middle-class and multi-ethnic America. These are hard working guys and gals who know that the American dream is not just about taking from this country but also giving back and protecting this country. It was interesting to note that the Hold Your Feet To The Fire group was mostly older, some times much older. It was as if the greatest generation was fighting one more time to save this country. Conversely, the counter-protesters were profane and mostly under 30.
There are the normal themes of border security first and no amnesty, but there were other themes which were more emotional and gut wrenching. The wives of the “Texas Three” were there. They were representing their husbands who were convicted on the testimony of drug and human smugglers, illegally in this country. This crowd was having none of that travesty of justice. They stormed the halls, telling their Congressmen and anyone who would listen, “Pardon Compean, Ramos and Hernandez.” In these cases, the word of law-breaking drug and human smugglers trumped the testimony of a law enforcement officer and medical evidence that corroborates their story. These are issues of right and wrong and brought out the most reaction from the crowd and fueled the momentum of the week.
The other theme was one of loss. I talked to many parents who lost children in the 9/11 attacks which they see as being caused by our lax enforcement of our immigration laws. Another group of parents of children killed by illegal immigrants in drunk driving accidents and sexual assaults. These stories were compelling because common sense assured you if our laws had been enforced, most, if not all, of these tragedies could have been prevented.
On Tuesday, FAIR President Dan Stein, Roger Hedgecock, Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), Congressman Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.) and Congressman Brian Billbray (R.-Calif.) held a press conference outside of the Cannon Office Building to make the points of no amnesty and border security first. There were joined by most of the talk hosts and attendees of Hold Their Feet To The Fire XII.
This is lobbying the way it is supposed to be. Real people making appointments with their legislators to talk about the issues they are concerned about. I recently participated on a panel at the United States Chamber of Commerce about immigration reform. One of the lobbyists for the roofing industry was there. He said he would get a congressman to agree to something and then they would start getting calls from people and they would change their mind. I think those calls were from constituents and I think that congressman remembered who he was responsible to — the taxpayer.
It is the opinion of this group that they can’t let up on this issue. As they were wrapping up three days of lobbying, the Bush Administration delivered proposals to Senator Kennedy (D-Mass.) and the so-called immigration experts to relax some of the earlier proposals (pre-November 2006) for tougher immigration laws. All you had to do was hear Claudia Spencer, a Mexican immigrant and one of the original members of “You Don’t Speak for Me,” talk about how much it meant to come to America through the front door and that the illegal immigrant Latino community is being hijacked by the “special interest” groups that are supposed to represent them. With tears in her eyes, she talks about how much she loves America because it is a country where you are respected.
Lobbying is a necessary tool for this form of government and we should be wary about limiting or restricting it. In the cynical world that we live in, it won’t be the slick guy in the great office making in the middle six figures who is limited. He will find a way to work no matter what. It will be the lady from California and 400 of her closest friends who came to Washington this week to Hold Their Feet To The Fire.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that her caucus can “vote their conscience” on immigration reform. Of course that only means they will vote their conscience on a bill that she lets get to the floor, not on all the options that could be put out there for reform. When asked if there were enough votes now to stop amnesty or open borders, the congressmen on radio row said they didn’t know. So until Congress is sure that they can have meaningful immigration reform, the Hold Their Feet To The Fire gang can live with, these hometown lobbyists will be calling, writing and talking to anyone who will listen and they won’t give up.
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