The New York Times, June 2007
WASHINGTON - The undoing of the immigration bill in the Senate this week had many players, but none more effective than angry voters like Monique Thibodeaux, who joined a nationwide campaign to derail it.
Mrs. Thibodeaux, an office manager at a towing company here in suburban Detroit, became politically active as she never had before. Guided by conservative Internet organizations, she made calls and sent e-mail messages to senators across the country and pushed her friends to do the same.
“These people came in the wrong way, so they don’t belong here, period,” Mrs. Thibodeaux, a Republican, said of some 12 million illegal immigrants who would have been granted a path to citizenship under the Senate bill.
“In my heart I knew it was wrong for our country,” she said of the measure.
... the legislation sparked a furious rebellion among many Republican and even some Democratic voters, who were linked by the Internet and encouraged by radio talk show hosts. Their outrage and activism surged to full force after Senator Jon Kyl, the Arizona Republican who was an author of the bill, suggested early this week that support for the measure seemed to be growing. The assault on lawmakers in Washington was relentless ...
“Technologically enhanced grass-roots activism is what turned this around, people empowered by the Internet and talk radio,” said Colin A. Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, a conservative group ...
For Mrs. Thibodeaux and others on her side, the immigration debate was a battle for the soul of the nation because it seemed to divert taxpayer-financed resources to cater to foreigners who had not come to this country by legal means.
“This hit home with me because I knew it was taking away from our people,” said Mrs. Thibodeaux, 50, who works at Ruehle’s Auto Transport. “What happened to taking care of our own people first?”
Rosemary Jenks, a policy advocate at NumbersUSA, which calls for curbing immigration, said that 7,000 new members signed up for the organization in a single day last week. Other groups reported a similar outpouring as proponents of the Senate bill claimed to be gaining momentum.
“We had way more response than we could handle,” said Stephen Elliott, president of Grassfire.org, a conservative Internet group that called for volunteers for a petition drive and instructed people how to barrage lawmakers with telephone calls and e-mail.
The group gathered more than 700,000 signatures on petitions opposing the bill, delivering them this week to senators in Washington and in their home states ...
Opposition to the Senate bill brought together many Americans in states where immigration was not traditionally a fervor-inspiring issue, but where illegal immigration has become more visible in recent years.
“Every state is now a border state,” said Susan Tully, the national field director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has long supported a crackdown on illegal immigration ...
“Ordinary people like me rose up and put a stop to it,” said William Murphy, a retired policeman from Evansville, Wis., one of the Grassfire.org volunteers who delivered petitions to his senators. On Thursday before the vote, he said, he put in new calls to 15 senators.
Mr. Murphy said he felt strongly about the bill because he believed it would degrade the value of American citizenship.
“If I come from Mexico, I can jump the fence and get all those American benefits,” he said. “It’s outrageous when you can buy your citizenship for $5,000,” he said, referring to the fines that illegal immigrants would pay under the bill to become legal permanent residents.
When asked about Mr. Bush’s support for the bill, Mr. Murphy, a longtime Republican, had to pause to temper his words.
“I was stunned, really,” he said. Mr. Bush “has always been a person who stood for some basic human values, and now he’s going to give away the country?” ...
Here in Michigan, speaking at her neatly maintained home under hickory trees in Washington, a town north of Detroit that has been battered by auto company layoffs, Mrs. Thibodeaux said the immigration bill worried her like no other political issue. She believed it would reward undeserving immigrants who do not speak English and would soon become a burden on public services that Americans need in a time of economic uncertainty.
“A lot of our American people in Detroit are hurting,” Mrs. Thibodeaux said, noting that she has often done volunteer work in poor neighborhoods here. “It’s just not right.”
Her strong feelings about the immigration issue came gradually, she said. A nephew who works as a house painter had trouble finding high-paying work because of competition from illegal immigrants. Some Mexican teenagers hassled her on the street, seeming to mock her because she walks with a cane. She spotted immigrants shopping with food stamps at the grocery store ...
If the immigration issue comes before Congress again, she said, “I’m going to get a microphone and start yelling.”
More: NY Times, VFR , GrassFire, WheresTheFence, NumbersUSA
The New York Times, June 2007