"One of the most positive things that Congress could get done between now and the end of the year is to get immigration reform up and over the finish line," U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Bruce Josten told the leaders from roughly 40 states at the chamber headquarters before they went to Capitol Hill to meet with nearly 150 GOP lawmakers.
Their goal was to persuade the lawmakers to go beyond just supporting immigration reform and take leadership in the name of the Republican Party on broad immigration overhaul, including some sort of legal status for the nearly 12 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.
"Our plea is to act now, do it now, lead," Stan Lockhart, a former chairman of the Utah Republican Party, told The New York Times.
Meanwhile, three House Republicans have signaled their intent to sign onto a Democratic immigration bill, Roll Call reported.
Rep. David Valado, R-Calif., joined Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., in saying they would support a bill sponsored by Florida Democrat Joe Garcia, the Washington publication said.
A study by the non-profit Bipartisan Policy Center released at the event found broad immigration overhaul would expand the U.S. gross domestic product nearly 3 percent over a decade.
"The best way to make the government smaller is to make the economy bigger," Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, a longtime advocate for smaller government, told the group.
The leaders also discussed how to craft their immigration-reform message to appeal to Republicans on Christian religious grounds.
"I think we could do something that addresses the issues of border security and national security while providing an earned path to citizenship and keeping families together," the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, told The Hill.
"Jesus wasn't kidding when he said, 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me,'" Salguero said.
The Democratic-led Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan immigration bill in June that would increase border security, overhaul the visa system and provide a pathway to citizenship for most of the immigrants in the United States without legal permission.
House GOP leaders rejected the measure in favor of a piecemeal approach that would require votes on a series of separate bills, with a priority on strengthening border security.
House committees have approved five bills. But none of them includes a way for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status, and none of them has come up for a vote.
Event sponsors also included the FWD.us political action group started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; the Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform network; the National Immigration Forum, and the Partnership for a New American Economy, led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, News Corp. and 21st Century Fox chief Rupert Murdoch and Marriott International Chairman J.W. Marriott Jr.
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