Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Conservative talk radio takes up immigration fight again

Screen shot from scpr.org

From the first page of the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act," introduced formally in the Senate early Wednesday. Debate starts Friday, and conservative talk shows are rallying support against it.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee gets ready to hold its first hearing on a comprehensive immigration bill, conservative talk show hosts from around the country are broadcasting down the street from the Capitol.

They say they’ve come to Washington, D.C. to hold politicians' “feet to the fire” - and force a "no" vote on the immigration bill.

They've turned a D.C. hotel into a "Radio Row" of on-air chatter—and most of the chatter is against immigration reform.

"Feet to the Fire" warmed by radio waves

A quick walk down the hall and you'll hear one host say, "We need immigration reform, but we don’t need to do it like this." Another calls the Senate bill "a policy that gives someone a leg up because they broke the law—then it’s an amnesty."

This is the seventh time conservative talk hosts have participated in the “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” event hosted by the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

FAIR media director Ira Mehlman says the timing this year isn’t accidental. He says this is "the only opportunity that the American public is going to have to find out about what’s in the bill."

Mehlman points out that the 844-page bill was dropped in the Senate chamber at 2 a.m. with only two days set aside for hearings before a vote.

"It is clear that their intent is to not to have too many people find out what is in it," says Mehlman.

Inga Barks—who hosts a daily talk show on Fresno station KMJ—says her audience in the Central Valley is split.

"You’ve got people who want to deport everybody and you’ve got people who say it’s Christian to let them stay," she says.

And there are the farmers who want “cheap labor,” says Barks.

Barks says the U.S. has "imported so many impoverished, uneducated people" that it's turned parts of the Central Valley into the "Third World."

"There are places where it doesn’t even look like America anymore," says Barks.

Immigration dominates conservative talk once again

Mark Jurkowitz also remembers the immigration battle of 2007 that was fought over the airwaves.

The associate director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism says the news media as a whole spent 9 percent of its time in early 2007 covering the immigration debate. But national conservative talk radio shows in that period devoted 31 percent of their air time on the immigration issue. 

When immigration was defeated in 2007, conservative hosts “took a victory lap,” says Jurowitz.

Jurkowitz says there’s anecdotal evidence that conservative talk shows will play less of a role this time—in part because Sean Hannity and other talk show hosts on the right now support immigration reform, in part because of the changing voter demographics.

Jurkowitz says there's been an "acknowledgement by the professional political class that a big factor in the 2012 Presidential election was the overwhelming support for President Obama by Hispanics."

Barks agrees the world has changed since the 2007 immigration battle with its massive immigration marches in downtown Los Angeles and across the country.

"We were on fire in 2007," she says. "And today, people go, ‘Oh, another immigration bill that’s not going to pass.’ But we’re still mad."

Barks says she expects this immigration bill to meet the same fate as the last one—with the help of those who fill the airwaves on talk radio.

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