Sick Of Congress? Nevertheless, Keep Those Letters And Cards Coming! (Plus: A Bleg To Patriotic Staffers)
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The American Immigration Control Foundation used to publish Immigration Watch, their bi-monthly newsletter. The April/May 2002 (yes, 2002, not 2012!) issue included a letter, attributed to "L.S." in "Cyberspace," that seemed instructive and potentially very useful. It's not available online, so now, at this critical time when its usefulness may be highest, I've transcribed it in its entirety. Here you go:

I've worked on Capitol Hill for years. For some of that time I answered a U.S. senator's constituent mail on sets of issues (immigration wasn't one of them).

Most members of Congress pay a great deal of attention to their mail and let it drive policy. You can make a difference. Your letter, even if it is responded to only with a form letter, is logged into the computer as "opposed to immigration." Whenever the member or his chief of staff or legislative director wants to know how the mail is going on immigration, your letter will affect the numbers.

You can write more than once. When you get the standard pro-immigration form response from that member, make sure to respond to it. What you are trying to do here (and my former colleagues may lynch me for this) is to force the legislative correspondent to sit down and write out a brand-new letter just for you (called a "handwrite" on the Hill). The best way to do that is to say something no one else has said before. The best way is to insist that he not ignore a specific point that you may have made, and demand a specific response to it; or to demand a commitment on a specific bill, not a bland assurance that he will keep your views in mind; or to ask what he tells people who support immigration and why, etc. You just keep going back and forth like this for at least several times.

And each time a new immigration controversy or bill comes up, you can write specifically about that, demanding that the member's specific stance on it be pro-immigration-control. The most effective letters follow these rules:

  • They are obviously written in their entirety by that person alone, not copied and pasted form letters or letters generated by a group that emphasizes a few talking points. They are printed out by computer, or carefully typed or even more carefully handwritten in legible script. Do not fondly imagine that you have wonderful handwriting. Take it to someone who will tell you straight out and bluntly if your writing is chicken scratch.
  • They are neat and readable. They do not fill the whole page from end to end, leaving no margins. They are not in tiny print. They are not smeared pencil or ink. They are not on ripped-out spiral notebook paper, on strangely colored paper, or with strangely colored ink. They are not filled with handwritten corrections, or add-ons to themselves.
  • They are not kook letters, talking about conspiracies, UFOs, the CIA broadcasting to radios in your body, Jesus personally talking to you—or calling the member names and issuing threats. The former are put in the kook file after everyone in the office reads them. The latter are passed on to the police.
  • They are to the point. Do not tell your life story; do not ramble. Do not make the letter ten pages long. One page is best; three at most.
  • They do not enclose a thick sheaf of newspaper clippings or poorly xeroxed copies thereof. We didn't have time to deal with that garbage. If you must enclose a news clipping, have one at most. Get your information from or a major media source. Use numbers and specifics. Be calm, credible, convincing.

That 2002 endorsement of in the letter's final paragraph is a nice touch I rediscovered upon doing the transcription.

I've shown the first part of that letter to a reader who used to work in a congressman's office on Capitol Hill. This former staffer told me that the letter has the ring of truth and authenticity.

Nevertheless, it could be quite helpful for other former staffers and, even better, current staffers—only of the immigration-patriot variety, of course—to weigh in with comments, corrections, and extensions to what "L.S." wrote 11 years ago. Such responses can be letters for posting at, displaying your name, a pseudonym, or "Anonymous" (although the editors will know something about you). You can also send feedback to me ([email protected]) for possible collection, distillation, and posting, but I may not be able to deal with it until after May 20.

And here are questions for such patriotic staffers that occur to me—I'm posting them here as a bleg:

  • How do snail-mailed letters, faxes (both those individually sent and those processed through NumbersUSA), and emails compare for (positive) impact?
  • I gather that, because of security screening and processing since the "savage enormity" of September 11, 2001 and the associated anthrax scare, snail mail sent to Capitol Hill offices is delayed for weeks. Is sending such letters to representatives' and senators' in-state district offices a useful, workable alternative? (Generally, mailing addresses for district offices are listed at the members' official web pages, reached via and
  • How does the impact of phone calls compare to that of the written-communications methods?
  • Should phone calls always be short, with the caller rattling off the equivalent of bullet points? Or are protracted conversations, with real back-and-forth between caller and staffer, sometimes possible? And useful?
  • Do phone calls to district offices have comparable impact to phone calls made to Capitol Hill?
  • For long-time Hill staffers, is any of letter-writer L.S.'s advice outdated?

Email with answers!

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