Pro-immigration Republican forces renew efforts for reform

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Republican and business advocates for immigration reform said Friday they were encouraged by signs that the House GOP plans to take up the issue after months of delay.

But Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Mich.) and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) warned the party not to get bogged down by details or scared off by criticism from a minority of conservative opponents.

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“If you are against the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country, you and your party don’t have a future,” said Bloomberg, who quit the GOP in 2007.

Joined by former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and a top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Snyder and Bloomberg prodded congressional Republicans to follow through on principles for an immigration overhaul they plan to release in the coming days.

“To be blunt, we have a dumb system,” Snyder said at the National Press Club event. “Let’s not let politics be the barrier.”

Those principles, drafted by the House leadership and a group of prominent members, are expected to call for a path to legalization for many of the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, along with strengthened border and interior security, a guest-worker program, and an enhanced citizenship verification system for employers.

However, the GOP document is expected to stop short of endorsing the kind of path to full citizenship desired by Democrats and included in the comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate in June.

“The principles they lay out I’m sure won’t satisfy everyone,” Bloomberg said.

The movement from the GOP has renewed cautious optimism among Democrats and advocates that Congress could deliver, at least partially, on a top domestic priority of President Obama's.

Yet while senior Republicans want to act so the national party can make inroads with Latino voters, the odds that a major bill can make it all the way to the president’s desk in a midterm election year are long.

Bloomberg, Snyder and Gutierrez said Congress should act on immigration reform even if Republicans won’t agree to the full-scale overhaul that Obama wants. Once a new system is in place, they said, tweaks could more easily be made in future years.

They also downplayed concerns about the legislative process in the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his lieutenants are insisting on a piecemeal approach wholly separate from the Senate-passed bill.

“It’s up to the leadership,” Bloomberg said. “If Boehner wants to get it done, he is accomplished, he’s been around a long time. He’s got a tough hand, but that’s what leadership is all about. 

“His tactics will be what he’s comfortable about, but if he wants to get it done, he can get it done,” he added.

Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, was making one of his first public appearances since leaving New York's City Hall after 12 years in office. He signaled he would continue to use his voice, and his deep pockets, to push for federal action on immigration, gun control and climate change.

The former mayor said increased immigration was crucial to the U.S. being able to compete in the expanding global economy. “Without immigration, we don’t have a future,” Bloomberg said. “They’re going to eat our lunch.”

Snyder touted a pilot program he recently announced to try to lure 50,000 immigrants with high-skilled work visas to help revive the bankrupt city of Detroit.

The influx of immigrants, he said, would “turbo-charge” the city’s economy.

Earlier in the day, Democratic immigration reform activists struck a similarly optimistic tone on the prospects for action in the House this year. Boehner has said the House needs to tackle the issue, and the third-ranking Republican, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), voiced support for a path to legal status short of citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

Democratic support will be crucial, even in the GOP-controlled House, because Republicans will not be able to muster the 218 votes needed for passage on their own.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said advocates would not be able to judge Republican principles without full details of legislation, but he said they might be open to a legal status for immigrants that was not the so-called “special pathway to citizenship” that conservative abhor.

“One can imagine a House no-special-path architecture that meets our principles,” he said.

Sharry defined the advocates’ principles as an “inclusive path to legal status for the undocumented and achievable path to citizenship for those who get legalized.”