January 6, 2009

Immigration Lobbying:
A Window Into the World of Special Interests

FAIR: Immigration policy consistently ranks near the top of the list of issues that concern Americans. Polls show that most Americans do not believe that our nation’s immigration policies serve the public interest and believe that these policies need to be overhauled, and that laws against illegal immigration need to be enforced.

Given the intense public concern about immigration policy, it is not surprising that the issue has been the subject of numerous high profile pieces of congressional legislation in recent years. And, where there is congressional legislation, there are inevitably lobbyists trying to shape the content and influence the outcome. What is eye-opening is the scope of interest groups that have been involved in lobbying Congress on immigration policy, how much money these interest groups spend on lobbying in Washington, and how little of it is directed toward promoting the public interest.

According to lobbying reports that are required to be filed with the House Office of the Clerk and the Senate Office of Public Records, 521 corporations, trade associations, business groups, labor organizations, government entities, and nonprofit organizations engaged in lobbying on one or more pieces of the immigration-related legislation included in this report. Only 2 percent of these organizations are known to have promoted positions in favor of enforcement of existing immigration laws, limiting the influx of foreign guest workers, and reducing overall levels of immigration. This small group working to advance the public interest in the immigration debate included the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The remaining 98 percent of the interest groups had a direct financial or political interest in relaxing immigration enforcement, and/or expansion of existing immigration quotas – positions that are widely rejected by the public. Collectively, these organizations and associations reported spending $345 million dollars lobbying Congress during this time period. While it is impossible to determine how much of that considerable sum was spent lobbying on specific pieces of immigration legislation, virtually all of the lobbying money expended by these groups is directed at gaining some benefit for themselves.

In preparing this report, FAIR reviewed the reports of every organization and association that reported lobbying on three major immigration bills. A complete list of these companies, associations, and nonprofit organizations appear in the Appendices. The report also categorizes those who lobbied on immigration legislation according to their economic or political interests. In some cases these interest groups have publicly stated their interests in immigration policy, and these statements of objective are cited. In other instances their interests can be identified based on the benefit that they would derive from specific changes in immigration policy. Most importantly, the results of this study show the lopsided disparity between how many interest groups have engaged in lobbying for mass immigration and amnesty for illegal aliens, versus those lobbying for limiting immigration and better enforcement of immigration laws. This disparity speaks volumes about why so little is being done in Congress to promote immigration reforms that are sought by the majority of Americans.

If Americans are disheartened and disillusioned by what they see going on in Washington, the intense lobbying that has taken place over immigration policy provides a case study for how powerful special interests with deep pockets are able to run roughshod over the interests and concerns of ordinary Americans. If the past is prologue, then we can expect to see another well-financed effort by these groups to promote amnesty, guest worker programs, and higher levels of immigration when a new Congress and a new administration take office in 2009.

These interest groups – some of whom played key roles in creating the nation’s current economic crisis – are likely to renew their lobbying efforts against a backdrop of a severe recession, rising unemployment, and record government deficits. As the legislative battle over immigration policy resumes in 2009, and these same interest groups again pour considerable amounts of lobbying dollars into the effort, it is vital that their interests and objectives be closely scrutinized.

Read the full report in pdf format.