Wall group hurls bricks at Congress

May 31, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON --Talk about constructive criticism.

Advocates of tougher border security have sent thousands of bricks to Senate and House offices in recent weeks to make a none-too-subtle point with lawmakers about where many of their constituents come down on emerging immigration bills.

Leaders of the campaign, which has delivered an estimated 10,000 bricks since it began in April, said they hit on the idea as a way to emphasize the benefits of a fence along the border with Mexico.

In an age when professionally planned lobbying campaigns have long since overwhelmed spontaneous grassroots pressure, organizers of the brick brigade also saw an opportunity to deliver a missive that is not easily discarded.

"E-mails are so common now," said Kirsten Heffron, a Virginian who is helping coordinate the effort. "It is really easy for the office to say `Duly noted,' hit delete and never think about it again."

If the impact was notable, so were the logistical difficulties, particularly given the mail screening and other protective measures put into effect at the Capitol after the anthrax attacks in 2001.

Initially, organizers of the Send-a-Brick Project encouraged people to send bricks on their own, and Heffron said things were going relatively smoothly.

But many people, she said, preferred that the organization send the bricks and an accompanying letter to selected lawmakers.

The project will do it for an $11.95 fee. So when 2,000 individually boxed bricks showed up at once, Senate officials balked, threatening to force the group to pay postage on every one. The dispute left the bricks stacked up until an agreement to distribute them was worked out. "We received them and we delivered them to all the addressees," said a spokeswoman for the office of the Senate sergeant-at-arms.

As the bricks landed in congressional mailrooms and cramped offices, the effort has been applauded in some offices while drawing a bemused response elsewhere. "Given the approval ratings of Congress these days, I guess we should all be grateful the bricks are coming through the mail, not the window," said Dan Pfeiffer, a spokesman for Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat.

The senders of the bricks were encouraged to add a letter telling lawmakers that the brick represented a start on building a border wall.

Many could not resist putting their own message on the bricks themselves. "No Amnesty," said a typical one, referring to a contested Senate plan to allow some illegal immigrants to qualify for citizenship.

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