WASHINGTON Even as they were popping corks Thursday night after a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate to pass an immigration bill, supporters of the overhaul were laying plans for the far more difficult task of moving something similar through the Republican-controlled House.
Speaker John Boehner of Ohio insisted Thursday that the House would not take up the Senate bill and would pass its own measure only if a majority of Republicans backed it, instead of relying more on Democratic votes.
As a sign of the conservative direction of the debate in the House, its Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill to enforce immigration laws that was much tougher than anything from the Senate. The House has yet to produce a bill that includes a core piece of the Senate legislation: a path to citizenship for 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country.
While supporters are hardly confident, they say House Republicans will soon discover a crucial difference this year from failed immigration efforts of the past. They say their coalition is broader and far more energized than in 2007, when an immigration overhaul by President George W. Bush did not even reach a vote in the Senate.
Latinos, who showed their strength when they overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama in November, are a leading force but are not the only one, supporters said. Business and technology industry groups, labor unions, agricultural growers, farmworkers, law enforcement associations, churches, educators, youth groups and other immigrant organizations are also in the mix.
The diversity gives supporters a variety of pressure points for approaching reluctant House Republicans, said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, an organizer for NCLR, the national Latino organization also known as the National Council of La Raza. A lawmaker who does not have many Latino voters in a district might have vegetable farmers, or labor unions, or a university, or an evangelical Christian megachurch, she said.
Asked why he thought the overhaul had a fighting chance in the House, Ali Noorani, a veteran of many immigration wars, pointed to a big green mobile billboard that had circled Capitol Hill every day this week.
Its flashing message was "Praying for immigrants. Praying for Congress."
Groups of evangelical Christians prayed on the Capitol lawn for the Senate to pass its bill. Noorani's group, the National Immigration Forum, has worked with Southern Baptists and other large evangelical denominations to coordinate prayer campaigns and run pro-overhaul spots on Christian radio stations in states where lawmakers might be persuaded to change their views.
"In 2007, we weren't even on the radar," said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a national evangelical group.
Rodriguez said he had been on the road continuously, addressing primarily non-Hispanic Christian conferences to spread the message on the overhaul.
Business groups are also pledging to stay in the fray.
"What will shock a lot of people in the House is the level of interest and intensity of the business community compared to 2007," said Scott Corley, the executive director of Compete America, which represents tech companies that are pressing for an increase in visas for skilled immigrants. "High-skilled industry is going to be very vocal in a way they have never seen before."
In 2007, Silicon Valley companies stayed in the background, and after a bruising and finally fruitless fight with labor unions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lost enthusiasm. This year, the Senate bill includes a compromise that the chamber and the AFL-CIO worked out to bring in low-wage migrant workers in the future, as well as provisions for high-skilled immigrants.
On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee approved its own bill to offer more visas for foreign computer engineers and scientists, which was also to the liking of Corley and leaders of other tech groups.
But Corley said tech companies remained convinced that such measures had to be part of a comprehensive package like the Senate bill, including the path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.