DALLAS, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Former U.S. President George W. Bush returned to the spotlight to urge Congress to pass immigration reform, saying immigrants help "invigorate our soul."
"As our nation debates the proper course of action relating to immigration, I hope we do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contribution of immigrants," he said Tuesday at a conference co-hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
"Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they invigorate our soul," Bush said.
As U.S. House Republicans prepare to restart talks with Democrats on immigration reform, their allies are raising money to support those efforts, The Wall Street Journal reported. As part of their efforts, Republicans are forming a super PAC -- Republicans for Immigration Reform -- to support congressional members backing immigration legislation who may face primary challengers in the next election cycle.
Also Tuesday, about 250 evangelical Christians, representatives of business and law-enforcement officials gathered in Washington to press Congress on immigration overhaul.
GOP congressional leaders have renewed interest in revamping immigration laws since the election, in which Hispanic voters overwhelmingly supported President Obama.
Democrats and Republicans are pushing for a comprehensive bill that would, among other things, include stepped-up border-security measures, employment verification to prevent firms from hiring undocumented workers as well as a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants.
Still, many Republicans remain opposed, particularly to the citizenship path.
In the House, a bipartisan group has been meeting since 2009 to develop an immigration bill and has legislation ready to go, people knowledgeable about the discussions told the Journal.
Obama has said he would start the immigration debate early next year.
Some organizations argue that breaking the issue into smaller chunks would be more likely to produce results, given the opposition to an amnesty program.
But Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's policy arm, warned that if Republicans want to be contenders for national leadership, "they are going to have to change their ways on immigration reform."
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, was blunt and biblical.
"They must cross the proverbial Jordan of immigration reform," he said, "if they want to step into the promised land of the Hispanic electorate."