Roy Beck, founder of NumbersUSA, a group that seeks to bring immigration to pre-1965 levels, comes every year. This year, he was making the rounds to 10 radio stations.
"It's a little bit like being at a day labor site," he said, describing the event.
"Or like speed dating?" I asked.
"It is like speed dating, that's true," he said. "But it is like a day labor site, you're just there. The little pickup truck drives by. Drives real slowly. And I go, 'I'm available! I'm cheeep!'"
FAIR provides a corral of guests like Beck -- heads of interest groups, border-town sheriffs, ranchers, and some congressional representatives (Marco Rubio made an appearance Thursday)--available for the radio show's disposal. While FAIR doesn't mandate the hosts talk to anyone in particular, the forum allows for a consistent message. And their intentions are clear: "Our view is that we would like to know as much about this proposal as possible, and we would like to defeat it early on," FAIR President Dan Stein said.
Sheriff Paul Babeu of Arizona is one of more popular guests in the stable. Babeu -- you may recall -- provided one of the more interesting side stories of the 2012 election. He stepped down from cochairing Romney's campaign in Arizona and eventually his congressional bid after allegations that he had threatened a former male lover with deportation. He has denied this.
In uniform, with big gold "SHERIFF" pins on his shirt collars, he said he was scheduled to talk to 30 radio hosts. As a sheriff in a county near the Mexican border, he has become a totemic critic of the Homeland Security Department. "What we want out of this is a secure border that protects our state, protects our country," he said. "As recent as this week that we had large groups of 100-plus [border crossers] that we haven't seen for years. That's a clue that the reason what's happening is because of the prospect of amnesty, the prospect of a path to citizenship."
His voice, his opinion as a border-area sheriff, would reach hundreds of thousands. "Literally I can go from one interview to the next," he said, "Talk to somebody in Alabama, talk to somebody in Virginia, and then talk to somebody in Phoenix. You can't do that normally. Now we have a nucleus to get this information out in a coordinated effort."
There's a bit of déjà vu here. Or a least a déjà vu FAIR would like to recreate. In the summer of 2007, such a coordinated effort among talk-radio hosts killed a George W. Bush-backed, bipartisan immigration deal that was gaining momentum in Congress.
"The conservative hosts really did make a crusade," Mark Jurkowitz, a media researcher with Pew, said. "It's hard to quantify how many [senators'] votes were changed in 2007, I don't know. But I do know the talk hosts -- and probably no one more so than Rush Limbaugh -- are very capable of motivating their listeners to make calls about a certain issue." (Limbaugh was not present at the FAIR event. It was mostly regional outlets.)