Priebus pitches support for immigration reform to Hispanic leaders

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Saturday pitched a gathering of Hispanic public officials on the GOP’s support for immigration reform, characterizing the call for tougher border control as a human rights issue.

"We need a solution that strengthens families. We need a solution that expands economic opportunity. And one of the reasons we need improved border security — that is not mentioned enough — is to further prevent violence and drug trafficking… and the brutal human trafficking and exploitation of women and girls," he said at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference.

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Priebus added that it's "important that Republicans are taking a lead in this policy discussion."

The Senate on Wednesday passed an immigration reform bill, 68-32, with every Democrat and 14 Republicans voting in favor.

In its current form, however, the bill has little chance of passing the House, as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he won't bring a package to the floor that doesn't have the support of a majority of Republicans in the lower chamber.

Conservatives have blasted the Senate version, saying it lacks adequate border security provisions. Many Republicans also oppose including a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

It's unclear what a House version of the bill will look like, and Priebus was quick to clarify that, as chairman of the GOP's national party apparatus, he "doesn't get to make policy decisions."

"But I join you in hoping the men and women on Capitol Hill get it right," he said.

In his Saturday address, Priebus acknowledged the trouble the GOP has traditionally had appealing to Hispanic voters. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote by more than 40 percent.

 The RNC, in its election postmortem, emphasized the need for the party to reach out to previously untapped demographics, including Hispanics. Priebus announced earlier this year that the committee is spending $10 million in 2013 on efforts to expand its appeal among minority voters.

He outlined some of those efforts on Saturday.

"We’ve completely reshaped our engagement efforts at the RNC to be more community based. We’re hiring from the community so we can get to know the community—the towns, neighborhoods, and churches," he said.

He went on to pitch Republican values on education reform, an area where Republicans believe they can make inroads among Hispanic voters.

On education reform, Priebus asserted the need for school choice, and he touted the efforts of governors in Texas, New Mexico and Nevada, states with sizable Hispanic populations, to expand educational opportunities.

In closing, Priebus insisted that he "didn't come to convert" the crowd, but suggested the GOP would continue to work to appeal to the Hispanic community.

"But I hope that it’s clear that we do want to earn your trust and your vote…and that we can find common ground," he said.