Prospects of immigration reform — dim as they have been in past years and getting dimmer with Congress’s increasing difficulty to reach compromise on any major or seemingly minor issue — have kept millions of dollars flowing through D.C. lobbying firms and coalitions. And President Barack Obama’s latest directive halting the deportation of certain immigrant youth – an effort to pull out of the logjam a measure that has been languishing for years while also putting it front and center in the presidential race — is unlikely to change that.
Obama’s order, which is similar to a plan introduced in May 2011 by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate’s majority whip (California Democrat Howard Berman, ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced a companion measure in the House) has quickly ignited debate in the presidential race and has further inflamed tensions among lawmakers and organizations representing businesses, universities and citizens rights groups. His announcement came after Senate Democratic leaders indicated they wouldn’t bring the so-called DREAM Act legislation to a vote, in part because they recognized too many forces would be unhappy with a narrow bill rather than a full immigration reform measure.
While some believe the White House’s action will jump start discussions in Congress, others believe it will only make negotiation more difficult. And already at least one measure has been introduced to block Obama’s order.
What is clear is that the issue will need further close — possibly closer — attention from lobbyists hired on Capitol Hill who already have been keeping a close eye on Durbin’s measure and on the immigration office. As Obama said, his order is “not a permanent fix.” And some activists have said that they have had to continue to lobby federal agencies despite administrative orders in the past, and will continue to do so for immigrant youth until a permanent fix is in place.
More than 50 clients have reported lobbying for a measure by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and many of those clients are big spenders in Washington, showing a total of $66.1 million in lobbying fees on a range of issues from the first quarter of 2011 through the first quarter of 2012. Meanwhile, 35 clients — reporting a sum of $5.4 million in lobbying fees in the first quarter of 2012 — have reported lobbying the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on immigration issues.
The DREAM Act Debate
Obama’s order, announced earlier this month, would protect from deportation illegal immigrants aged 30 or younger, who were brought to the United States before age 16, have been in the country for at least five years, and are in school or earned a high-school degree or its equivalent. It would then allow them to apply for work permits. The order would affect about 800,000 undocumented immigrants, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
It differs a bit from Durbin’s proposal, dubbed the DREAM Act, which aims to set a pathway to citizenship for the immigrant youth — a contentious issue between Republicans and Democrats and the source of much of the lobbying effort in Washington. Similar proposals have been introduced since 2001, when Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced the first DREAM Act.
While Obama’s order resembles the substance of Durbin’s proposal — which has been stuck in Congress this session — it also reportedly resembles certain aspects of legislation that Republican Sen. Marco Rubio had been considering but has shelved since Obama’s announcement. Rubio, a Cuban American who is reportedly on GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s short list of potential running mates, accused Obama of “ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress” by instituting the policy — a position stated by many Republicans.
Sen Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security, applauded Obama’s order and said it would put more pressure on Congress to pass the DREAM Act. But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who voted against the legislation in 2010, said Obama’s decision is “going to make it much more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get a permanent solution,” according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Already Republican Ben Quayle of Arizona, a freshman and son of former Vice President Dan Quayle who is in a tough GOP primary fight against fellow freshman David Schweikert in Arizona, has introduced the “Prohibiting Back-door Amnesty Act of 2012” legislation. Quayle issued a statement saying the executive decision “is stunning in both its arrogance and shortsightedness.”
All this disagreement ensures that lobbying activity on behalf of businesses, universities and citizens rights organizations will only need to continue if not intensify as the logjam in Congress becomes tighter and since Obama made it a major issue in this year’s presidential contest — leading Romney to announce he would veto any such legislation if it landed on his desk if he was elected president.
Lobbying on Immigration and the DREAM Act
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 782 clients have lobbied for specific issues containing the word “immigration” since 1998. In the past year, 664 firms or coalitions have lobbied Congress on behalf of 631 clients on the issues of immigration, according to the First Street database. In 2012, 244 lobbying clients are reported. Meanwhile, money spent by firms reporting lobbying on immigration issues has declined from a peak of $450 million in 2007 — when a major immigration reform measure failed to reach final passage — but already has reached to just under $250 million so far this year, according to CRP.
Through 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, more than 50 clients reported lobbying on Durbin’s measure. In just the first quarter of 2012, 23 clients reported spending nearly $24.5 million on lobbying overall. But looking at lobbying on any legislation related to the DREAM Act — primarily including Berman’s House measure — First Street data shows 144 lobbying firms and 135 clients active on the issue.
Immigrant and civil rights groups — such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, NAACP, the ACLU –have lobbied hard this Congress for the legislation to be passed. The same is true of higher education institutions, including: Harvard, Stanford, University of Wisconsin, the University of California, Yale and Northwestern University. Together, universities and colleges and educational associations have spent more than $4.9 million lobbying this session through the first quarter of 2012.
The Chamber of Commerce, which has spent the most on lobbying in Washington — reporting $20.2 million in the first quarter of 2012 alone– has typically stood on the side of Republicans in matters of business, but in this case has supported the DREAM Act. Hewlett-Packard and the National Restaurant Association also have lobbied for the legislation.
The following details the lobbying clients and their expenditures so far this session on the Durbin proposal, showing expenditures by quarter.
|Lobbying Client||2011 Q2||2011 Q3||2011 Q4||2012 Q1||TOTAL|
|Chamber of Commerce||$10,010,000||$14,250,000||$20,200,000||$44,460,000|
|National Restaurant Association||$843,000||$663,000||$430,500||$722,200||$2,658,700|
|National Education Association||$1,900,102||$1,900,102|
|Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights||$269,728||$202,246||$268,293||$268,293||$1,008,559|
|American Bar Association||$290,000||$215,000||$220,000||$250,000||$975,000|
|University of California||$220,000||$190,000||$170,000||$230,000||$810,000|
|American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees||$710,000||$710,000|
|American Civil Liberties Union||$341,295||$328,218||$669,513|
|Harvard University-President and Fellows of Harvard College||$145,000||$115,000||$120,000||$120,000||$500,000|
|University of Wisconsin-Madison||$90,000||$90,000||$90,000||$100,000||$370,000|
|National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities||$100,000||$50,000||$60,000||$71,000||$281,000|
|University of Pittsburgh||$100,000||$100,000||$200,000|
|American Association of University Women||$35,000||$34,000||$50,000||$40,000||$159,000|
|National Association for the Advancement of Colored People||$50,000||$50,000||$50,000||$150,000|
|Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities||$75,000||$75,000||$150,000|
|National Association of Social Workers||$140,890||$140,890|
|Association of Community College Trustees||$15,000||$20,000||$15,000||$90,000||$140,000|
|American Association of Community Colleges||$40,000||$30,000||$30,000||$40,000||$140,000|
|American Jewish Committee||$50,000||$30,000||$30,000||$30,000||$140,000|
|California State University||$140,000||$140,000|
|Loyola University-New Orleans||$45,000||$45,000||$45,000||$135,000|
|National Immigration Forum||$60,000||$30,000||$20,000||$110,000|
|American Council on Education||$58,140||$38,673||$96,813|
|National Council of La Raza||$87,000||$87,000|
|Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities||$20,000||$30,000||$30,000||$80,000|
|People for the American Way||$30,000||$20,000||$30,000||$80,000|
|University of Rochester||$70,000||$70,000|
|First Focus Campaign for Children||$20,000||$30,000||$20,000||$70,000|
|Natonal Women’s Law Center||$70,000||$70,000|
|Council on Social Work Education||$30,000||$30,000||$60,000|
|American Indian Higher Education Consortium||$30,000||$30,000||$60,000|
|Wipro Technologies Inc||$40,000||$40,000|
|Federation for American Immigration Reform||$20,000||$20,000||$40,000|
|Latina Reproductive Health Project||$20,000||$20,000||$40,000|
|National Collegiate Athletic Association||$40,000||$40,000|
|The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund||$19,952||$17,089||$37,040|
|American Association of State Colleges and Universities||$33,681||$33,681|
|Los Angeles Unified School District||$20,000||$20,000|
|American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education||$5,228||<$5,000||$5,100||$5,642||$15,969|
|Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society||<$5,000||<$5,000|
|America’s Voice Education Fund||<$5,000||<$5,000|