Updated 5:11 p.m. | House Republican leaders are mum on a timetable for advancing immigration overhaul legislation and have so far been noncommittal on moving on the issue before the end of the 113th Congress.
But a group of mayors and business leaders from across the political spectrum is determined to prove that momentum is growing for a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws — even among conservatives.
The coalition, Partnership for a New American Economy, on Wednesday held the first in a series of monthly conference calls moderated by Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and featuring public figures in the conservative movement who support immigration overhaul efforts.
Norquist and his guests — Tea Party Express Co-Founder and Strategist Sal Russo, America Online Founder Steve Case and American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas — strained to get the point across that the issue is not dead on Capitol Hill, and that House GOP leaders continue to plod along on a path to bring legislation to the floor.
They said that President Barack Obama’s threat to supersede Congress and use his “pen and phone” on immigration if the House doesn’t soon act is not helpful. But even unilateral action from the White House, they said, would not derail the push for action in the House, as many Republicans, including Speaker John A. Boehner, have suggested.
Norquist and the others said they are in touch with House Republicans working on a legislative strategy for immigration — piecemeal, comprehensive or otherwise. And it’s Republicans, not Democrats, who are actually working to cut a deal, according to the group. “I don’t think Democrats are the ones that are moving,” Russo said. “I think Republicans are far more equipped to take action.”
The Wednesday conference call was also timed with two separate announcements designed to make neutralize the issue for congressional Republicans who fear they could lose re-election in November if they took a pro-immigration overhaul stance.
Earlier Wednesday morning, Russo — at the Partnership for a New American Economy’s urging — published an op-ed in Roll Call
stating his support for fixing the immigration system that would provide a legal status pathway for undocumented residents of the United States.
The Partnership for a New American Economy, the Tea Party Express and Americans for Tax Reform also released the findings of a new poll Wednesday, which was commissioned jointly from the firm McLaughlin & Associates. Results show that the vast majority of 400 Republican primary voters surveyed who “identify strongly or somewhat with the Tea Party movement” support immigration overhaul efforts.
Of those polled, 76 percent said they would support a plan that fell in line with the broad standards for immigration overhaul that Boehner and other members of House GOP leadership released earlier this year.
Conservative proponents of a legislative fix to immigration laws point to the recent primary victory of two-term incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., as proof that Republicans need not fear electoral repercussions for standing in the affirmative on a controversial issue. Ellmers supports action on immigration this year and fended off a GOP opponent who opposed action on the issue.
Norquist stressed that the evolution of the GOP position on immigration over the past decade had changed dramatically already, and that it would continue to do so in the months ahead.
“The Republican electorate, and even Republican congressman, have moved rather dramatically from what looked like a ‘heck, no,’ position over to a ‘yes, but,’” he told reporters on the call Wednesday.
But in remarks Monday in San Antonio, at a luncheon sponsored by several business groups there, Boehner acknowledged that there are many in the GOP conference who remain adamantly opposed.
“There are some members of our party who just do not want to deal with this. It’s no secret,” he said. “I do believe the vast majority of our members do want to deal with this, they want to deal with it openly, honestly and fairly.”
On Wednesday evening, Jenny Beth Martin, the co-founder of another leading tea party organization, Tea Party Patriots, released her own statement “clarifying” the group’s stance.
It didn’t entirely align with Russo’s:
“Millions of people have come to America legally and invested the time and effort to become naturalized citizens in pursuit of personal freedom and their American Dream. We admire them for their courage, determination and desire, all of which reflect the founding principles of the United States.
“The position of Tea Party Patriots is clear. We must first fully secure our borders. Immigration reform cannot happen without this necessary first step.
“We support legal immigration and the rule of law, according to the Constitution. There is already a legal path to citizenship for those wishing to come to the United States. Anyone who decides to get off that path and enter the United States illegally should not be given any sort of amnesty because doing so is neither fair nor equal treatment under the law.
“We must also demand the Obama administration enforce our current immigration laws. Those who are determined to have entered the country illegally and are on-track for deportation should be deported. Those who have been convicted of crimes and are serving sentences for their crimes should remain incarcerated until their sentences have been served.
“Conservatives are watching Congress like a hawk and will do everything to make sure immigration reform is done in a manner that respects the law and those who abide by it.”
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