You Can Make a Difference – How to Contact Elected Officials!06 Jul 2006
One of the great attributes of the U.S. government is its accessibility to the people who reside in the United States. It is our responsibility as well as our privilege to contact our elected officials and ensure that they know and understand our views on the issues. From time to time in MurthyBulletin and MurthyDotCom articles, we at the Murthy Law Firm recommend that our readers contact their congressional representatives regarding certain immigration issues. This article provides guidelines on just how to go about contacting congressional representatives, reasons for contacting them, and what to say when contacting the office of a United States senator or United States representative.
How To Contact Your Congressional Representatives
The United States Congress is comprised of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Both have excellent online directories. The Senate directory may be found through the Senate Index Page. Each state has two senators in Congress, both senators representing the entire state. Persons may contact one or both Senators on issues of importance.
The House directory can be accessed through the House Index Page. Though each state has at least two representatives, the number of representatives is determined by the state’s total population. For example, a large, heavily populated state like California has a greater number of representatives than Rhode Island, our smallest state, because more people live in California than in Rhode Island. Each state is divided into congressional districts. Each district has one representative. Therefore, even though a state may have multiple representatives, they represent only their respective sections of the state.
Many senators have websites that can be accessed through the Senate directory. Likewise, many representatives have websites that can be accessed through the House directory. Frequently, insight into what the senators and representatives consider to be important issues can be gained from their sites, which also provide addresses for their local offices within their home states.
The Senate and House directories provide means to contact each, whether through U.S. mail, fax, eMail, or appointment with their aides or assistants in their Capitol Hill or local state offices. Though security is heightened on Capitol Hill, the congressional offices remain reasonably accessible. Attorneys from our firm have gone to Capitol Hill to speak with congressional representatives post September 11, 2001 without incident. It is important to understand that not only attorneys are welcome on Capitol Hill! On our visits, we have seen teachers, tourists, and even a singing group in and around the Congressional offices. While your senators or representative may not be available to meet with you, personally, they have staff members who assist them in making decisions as to the issues they should support or oppose, and they are generally available.
Contacting a Senator or Representative
There are three primary reasons our readers may wish to contact senators or representatives. The first is to ask them to support, oppose, or propose certain types of legislation. The second reason is to request assistance in an immigration case. The third is to thank them for their work in Congress.
In determining whether to ask a senator or representative to support, oppose, or propose legislation, one must first know the existing legislation that is pending. For those who have extensive time to review legislation, the most comprehensive site is the Library of Congress’s legislative website, where pending legislation may be reviewed. For important legislation specific to immigration, one may also check the legislation page on MurthyDotCom. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has a public page, as well, showing pending immigration legislation and providing an easy means by which to comment on proposed legislation. Bills may be introduced in the House of Representatives or the Senate. Senate bills are noted as S.###. House bills are noted as H.R.###.
When you find a bill that you want a senator or representative to support or oppose, look at the bill’s sponsors to see whether your senator or representative has co-sponsored the bill. Senators co-sponsor Senate bills and representatives co-sponsor House bills, but both must approve a bill if it is going to move to the President for final approval. For more details, refer to our August 9, 2002 article, The Legislative Process – How a Bill Becomes a Law, available on MurthyDotCom. If it is a bill that you want your senator or representative to support, and s/he has not co-sponsored the bill or otherwise publicly supported it, write or visit your senator or representative and request support and co-sponsorship of the bill. If it is a bill that you want your senator or representative to oppose, but your senator or representative has co-sponsored the bill, you can still write to him/her and ask that s/he withdraw co-sponsorship. Senators and representatives who hear from enough of their constituents may change their positions on a particular issue.
If there is no legislation that addresses your particular matter, you may wish to ask your senator or representative to propose such legislation. In some cases, there may be legislation from a prior year that was not passed that you would like to see reintroduced. In this case, it is a good idea to send a copy of that legislation with your request. Similarly, you may want to work with an organization that drafts proposed legislation, or try your hand at drafting, based on the format of other bills, to give your senator or representative better insight into exactly what you want.
People may seek individual assistance from their senators or representatives. Help is available from immigration caseworkers that the senators and representatives have in their local offices. In some instances, these caseworkers are able to speak with the USCIS, the CBP, ICE, or an immigration court to determine what is needed to resolve a case. Though their access to the immigration agencies is impressive and a great asset to those who need it, one should not assume that a congressional immigration caseworker can perform miracles, having a case that was filed yesterday approved by tomorrow. These caseworkers cannot obtain immigration benefits that are not provided within the existing law. They must be used sparingly for cases that are not proceeding correctly through the normal process. Otherwise, the immigration caseworkers will become too busy to assist anyone within a reasonable time.
Senators and representatives are able to sponsor private bills to provide immigration relief for persons living in their jurisdictions. Few private bills are sponsored each year, and even fewer are passed. One should not rely on a private bill to solve his/her immigration problems.
Finally, one should contact senators and representatives to thank them when they vote in favor of positive legislation, vote against negative legislation, sponsor or co-sponsor favorable legislation, or provide assistance in a personal case. This positive feedback is important, as it keeps them in touch with the people and lets them know when they have made the right decisions. This may encourage similar actions in the future. Even if a person is not a U.S. citizen and cannot vote, his or her opinion as a potential, future voter is important.
Caution to Non-Citizens
U.S. citizens 18 years of age and older may register to vote for senators, representatives, and other elected officials. As explained in our May 1998 article entitled, False Claims to Citizenship, available on MurthyDotCom, falsely claiming U.S. citizenship can cause serious problems for those seeking immigration benefits. Therefore, it is important to make one’s immigration status clear in order to avoid even the appearance of a false claim to citizenship. Note, however, that a naturalized citizen has the same voting rights as all other citizens. One does not need to distinguish her/himself as a naturalized or natural-born citizen unless it strengthens one’s arguments for asking the senator or representative to act. Neither does one have to be a U.S. citizen in order to contact a senator or representative, or to request favors to check on an immigration case.
Without our input, senators and representatives will act in the way they personally think best. Due to the high volume of issues, they may not know much about a particular issue unless we have taken the time to inform them. By participating in the democratic process and sharing our views on the issues, we are ensuring that our elected officials are making informed decisions. Otherwise, senators and representatives may base their positions on misinformation or on the best speech made during floor deliberation. While we at the Murthy Law Firm will continue to address immigration matters with our elected officials, we urge each of you to make your voices heard using the tools we have listed here and through your employers, local organizations, or other resources to which you may have access.