Georgia business leaders are diving into the thorny debate on
overhauling the nation's immigration laws, seeking to push Congress to act as
soon it emerges from its summer recess next month.
Dozens of corporate executives, farmers and other businessmen have descended on Capitol Hill this year, pressing their cases for changing foreign-worker laws.
While some businessmen have been more specific than others on what they want, they are trying to build collective momentum. But prospects for the passage of comprehensive immigration legislation are uncertain, given the clashing visions in the Democratic-led U.S. Senate and Republican-run House.
Businesses routinely lobby Congress through trade associations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which wields outsized influence in Washington. But this push, with many individual businesses across multiple industries stepping forward, is rare.
The growing pressure from business interests could create a politically tricky situation for Republican congressmen. Businesses carry strong influence with lawmakers. At the same time, GOP congressmen don't want to alienate primary supporters, many of whom oppose loosening immigration laws.
A national campaign called Bibles, Badges and Business is preparing to turn up the heat this month with a series of roundtable discussions and other events planned across the nation and in Georgia. The campaign supports foreign-worker visa programs and is pressing Congress for a solution that brings illegal immigrants "out of the shadows, stabilizes the workforce, and allows all Americans to compete for jobs on a level playing field."
And just last week the Georgia Chamber of Commerce joined more than 400 business groups and employers nationwide -- including Facebook, Google and Microsoft -- in sending a letter to Congress in support of immigration-overhaul legislation. They said fixing the badly broken system would boost the economy, though they didn't specify legislation they want passed.
Meanwhile, groups that oppose much of what Congress is debating are mobilizing. For example, members of Numbers USA, which supports reducing immigration, plan to attend congressional town hall meetings this month, to "shame" any businessmen who say they need to hire foreign workers, and to chant "Raise the pay."
The flurry of activity comes amid Congress' five-week summer recess, when lawmakers typically gather with constituents in town hall meetings. They left Washington this month, as the omnibus Senate immigration legislation was stalled in the House.
The Senate bill -- favored by many Georgia business groups -- would make it easier to hire foreign workers and would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Calling that "amnesty," House Republicans won't take up the Senate bill. They are considering several smaller bills instead, some focused on border security and immigration enforcement. One would make it easier to hire more foreign workers, though that legislation has yet to make it to the House floor.
So far, Georgia's business lobby is batting 0-for-1. In June, Georgia's two senators, Republicans Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, voted against the Senate bill. Chambliss said the agriculture part was flawed, and both said there were not enough assurances about border security.
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