Immigration groups turn to anger

Immigration reform advocates are done playing nice with House Republicans.

After holding their fire for years at the urging of the Obama administration, several immigration reform groups now plan to unleash their anger at the right.

A new, more aggressive campaign kicks off Tuesday, when these groups say they will begin confronting Republican lawmakers at public appearances, congressional hearings and events back in home districts. The goal: Shame Republicans in swing districts into taking up the issue — or make them pay at the ballot box in November.

(Also on POLITICO: Bill Gates: U.S. immigration ‘incredible’)

It’s unclear if the strategy will truly damage Republicans with their constituents. Or worse, whether it might backfire and oust some of the movement’s best potential allies across the aisle.

Still, the groups believe it’s time to try something new. The movement embraced a distinctly positive message when Barack Obama took office in 2009 and stuck with it publicly even until last month, when the groups applauded House Republican leaders for releasing a set of immigration reform principles at a GOP winter retreat.

But things changed last week when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dashed hopes that a major immigration overhaul could happen this year — leaving immigration groups to say enough is enough.

“Obviously, persuasion only got us so far,” Kica Matos, a spokeswoman for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, said Monday. “What we are now doing is to switch tactics from persuasion to punishment.”

Matos declined to say which members of Congress are at risk for the in-your-face treatment but warned that the campaign would be “relentless and constant.” America’s Voice and CASA in Action are also leading the effort. The plan for now is to engage in daily confrontations for at least the next two months, Matos said.

(WATCH: Chuck Schumer proposes immigration work-around)

The groups also plan to target House Republicans in swing districts with a wide section of Latino voters — even if they’ve expressed support for immigration reform before. That means that lawmakers such as Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who has gone as far as to sign onto a Democratic-backed comprehensive bill, aren’t safe from the wrath of the pro-reform groups.

The strategizing extends to allies on Capitol Hill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra have been in talks with key advocacy groups such as America’s Voice, Alliance for Citizenship, and two powerful pro-reform labor unions — the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union — among other faith-based, Latino and Asian organizations. The focus of those conversations is to figure out how best to put pressure on House Republicans to move on immigration reform this year, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the talks.

“We’re not going to go away,” added Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The speaker’s comments were a reality check that we have to redouble our efforts. We need to translate the overwhelming support of the American public for this into public power, and I think it would be a mistake to let Congress — and especially the House — off the hook.”

Another Catholic bishops event being planned for the coming weeks, most likely along the Arizona border, will highlight the dangers that immigrants face while crossing the U.S-Mexico boundary, Appleby said. That is meant to be a domestic version of Pope Francis’s first official trip outside Rome to Lampedusa, Italy, last summer — where the pope commemorated immigrants who tried to cross into Italy from North Africa.

Appleby said the bishops will also be “focusing like a laser” on key House Republicans who are Catholic to see whether they can persuade the lawmakers in favor of reform.

There’s also a split in the pro-reform coalition over whether it would be wise for Obama to use his executive discretion to defer deportations for a broader subset of undocumented immigrants in the United States — particularly those who would likely qualify for legalization.

(Also on POLITICO: Rand Paul warns Texas could turn blue)

Some groups, like the AFL-CIO and longtime reform advocate Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), have urged Obama to use his executive authority on deportations. So far, the White House has not threatened to take unilateral executive action, wanting to give House Republicans space to bring forward their own proposal.

While this latest salvo will only increase the amount of pressure advocates put on the White House, taking any action could play into Republicans’ hands. GOP lawmakers have long said Obama does not enforce current immigration laws and used that as a reason to stop any momentum on the issue. Some proponents, like Appleby, think that Obama taking unilateral action would kill chances of an immigration deal in Congress.

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Immigration groups turn to anger
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