Top conservative leaders push for immigration reform

Conservative business, religious and law enforcement leaders met in Washington to urge Congress to move on comprehensive immigration reform.
By Jayna Omaye -- Medill News Service  |  Oct. 30, 2013 at 11:05 AM
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WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of conservative leaders from 40 states gathered in Washington Tuesday and met with more than 100 members of Congress to present their legal, business and moral arguments in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.

“What’s happening today is that Republican voters are telling Republican members of Congress we’re ready for reform,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, one of the event’s hosts. “For Republicans to vote for reform, they need to be able to look to their base. They need to be able to look to the people who vote for them for guidance.”

The event, backed by national organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Partnership for a New American Economy, and, brought together top conservative law enforcement, business and faith leaders to lobby lawmakers about the benefits of immigration reform.

For many business leaders, evangelicals and law enforcement officials, acceptable immigration reform would include a pathway to citizenship, paired with increased border security. The goal would be to provide visas to immigrants to fill certain labor-intensive jobs and to allow talented and educated newcomers to remain in the country.

Business leaders believe immigrants would add much needed support to the country’s work force, particularly in the agricultural industry where nearly 70 percent of farm workers are undocumented, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“If you don’t have workers you need to produce a product, then you can’t sell the product,” said Randel Johnson, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber. “And so, it’s bad for competition. And if employers can’t compete, they’re not going to stay in business. There’s going to be no jobs for anybody.”

Many in the evangelical community believe in immigration reform based on ethical reasons, such as being generous to strangers and neighbors and keeping families together, especially as more immigrants have joined the faith. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said more than 200 top evangelical leaders have affirmed their support for immigration reform.

“This has become personal for us,” Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said during a panel discussion. “We recognize that they [immigrants] are good people. They are strong family-oriented people. They are hard-working people. They’re people that we love. They’re our friends and our neighbors now.”

Law enforcement officials say securing the country’s borders -- making Americans feel safer -- is one of the arguments for supporting a pathway to citizenship for some of the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The police also want stronger border security.

“We are not rewarding the law breakers. We are providing an opportunity, that’s the way that I look at this,” said Margaret Mims, sheriff of Fresno County, Calif., at a panel discussion. “This is not giving them precedence. I think it’s so unrealistic to think that we’re going to take 11 million people, somehow find them, and deport them all.”

While the Senate has passed a bill that allows for an avenue to citizenship and increased border security, legislation in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has stalled.

Although the goal of the fly-in is to push U.S. House members to pass immigration reform by the end of the year, some have doubts that a bill will be approved that quickly.

“I’m into having a realistic goal and getting it done,” Johnson said. “But I think realistically, our goal is to get members to go to the House leadership and say this is important to get done and get the process moving.”

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