Rallies Press Immigrants to Register for Vote Demonstrations in Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., scheduled for the Labor Day weekend, will aim at registering voters. The idea is to catch the ear of Congress as lawmakers return from summer break.
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Rallies Press Immigrants to Register for Vote

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Rallies Press Immigrants to Register for Vote

Rallies Press Immigrants to Register for Vote

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

More pro-immigrant demonstrations this weekend. This group is on a four-day march from Chicago to House Speaker Dennis Hastert's district office in Batavia 50 miles away.

(Soundbite of rally)

SIMON: Other demonstrations are planned in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., all timed to try to catch the ear of Congress as lawmakers return from summer break. NPR's Jennifer Ludden covers immigration issues and joins us. Thanks very much for being with us.

JENNIFER LUDDEN reporting:

Hi there, Scott.

SIMON: Four months ago, when there were a series of demonstrations, it seemed to sharpen public awareness, but there was no measurable legislative result. What are people hoping for this time?

LUDDEN: What immigrant groups have spent their summer doing is launching these voter registration drives across the country. And so they're going to come on the streets once again and they're going to try and press the message that we are signing up, we are hurrying along immigrants who qualify to become citizens so they can sign up to vote. A lot of this, it's long-term. They're looking at 2008, and they're saying, look, this is our civil rights moment, it's an underground economy you may not even know exists, but here we are, and we're watching you.

SIMON: And what would you project would be the likely response of people who are, for example, opposed to legalizing undocumented workers?

LUDDEN: Well, as one told me, Scott: bring it on. He said this, to his mind, doesn't really benefit them. In fact, he said friends come up to him and say, hey, are you guys paying these people to do this? Because in the minds of some who oppose legalization, it's just audacious for them to see non-citizens making demands of the U.S. government. And so they're confident that it's going to backfire.

SIMON: These hearings that the House of Representatives, the field hearings that they've been holding over the past month, the whole idea has been criticized by some people as simply so much show, and really featuring only the idea of border enforcement without legalization or considerable reform as an option. What have been the effect of those hearings?

LUDDEN: It's hard to measure the effect on public opinion. They've kind of dropped off the radar screen. But they are certainly getting attention in local areas.

Let me give you a sense. There was a hearing just Friday in Iowa. Okay, the title kind of gives them away. It asked, is the Senate bill to legalize immigrants a repeat of the failed amnesty of 1986? And they had several people who oppose any legalization. You know, you had area employers there who have a lot of immigrant workers say that they asked to speak and were denied. You know, not all the witnesses have been partisan. There was a hearing recently in Gainesville, Georgia. They had a congressional research service expert testifying on whether illegal immigrants impact government healthcare.

Now, the woman testified that it was unclear, that studies show no rampant abuse, at which point Congressman Charlie Norwood of Georgia was reported to say he was disappointed and was going to call up her boss. And then he was quoted as saying, what I wanted was witnesses who agree with me, not disagree with me.

SIMON: Any side seem to be able to reach people, Americans who just haven't chosen sides yet or don't know where they stand?

LUDDEN: You know, it's hard to know where they do stand. You have polls that show 2/3 of Americans want a border crackdown and no amnesty. And then you have polls that ask, well, if someone has been here working, and they pay back taxes and they pay a fine, should they be legal? And 2/3 say yes. So each side is kind of saying they've got the silent majority on their side.

SIMON: Thanks very much. NPR's Jennifer Ludden.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

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