Conservatives prod GOP on immigration

Conservative supporters of immigration reform are joining President Obama in prodding House Republicans to bring legislation to the floor before Congress breaks for its August recess.

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Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist who is in favor of an immigration overhaul, convened allies on a conference call Wednesday to keep up the drumbeat for reform in the face of continued resistance from conservatives in the House.

The call featured Sal Russo, a co-founder of Tea Party Express, voicing support for an immigration overhaul that offered legal status to immigrants in the country illegally.

“Conservatives should be leaders in the immigration reform movement,” Russo said. “There are too many bad ideas on immigration reform that too many conservatives have become satisfied with just saying no. But I think we can do better than that by advancing our own conservative ideas for immigration reform.”

Obama and Senate Democrats have sought to increase pressure on Republican leaders to act in recent days, with the president saying on Tuesday that the House needed to pass legislation in the next “two or three months” for a law to be signed this year.

Steve Case, a former AOL chairman, seconded that timetable on Wednesday, saying on the conference call that it was “critical” for the House to act by August and that if it did not, immigration reform could be dead for the next few years.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he is trying to get his conference to support a step-by-step approach to immigration reform, but he has warned repeatedly that nothing will happen until Obama acts to rebuild trust with House Republicans.

On the conference call, there were few answers on how Obama could overcome that hurdle by the summer.

“It’s a tough question,” Norquist said.

The activists on the call said that despite Boehner’s proclamation, their conversations with top Republicans led them to believe there remained a window of opportunity over the summer, once GOP lawmakers had finished their primary elections. House legislation would likely include a path to legal status, but not a direct path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants, unlike the comprehensive legislation the Senate passed last year.

“I believe that’s in the works,” said Al Cardenas, president of the American Conservative Union. “I believe the Speaker and the leadership are committed to this.”

Seeking to overcome conventional wisdom that the Tea Party opposes immigration reform, the activists pointed to a survey of 400 Republican primary voters that their organizations commissioned in May. The poll found that more than two-thirds of respondents who strongly identified with the Tea Party supported congressional action on immigration reform this year, as well as a way for illegal immigrants to gain legal status or citizenship.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), a leading House GOP advocate for immigration reform, issued a statement cheering Russo’s support for the issue.

“The American people, and conservatives in particular, are fed up with Washington’s inaction,” Diaz-Balart said. “I’m pleased with Mr. Russo’s support on this issue, and today’s announcement is one more demonstration that we must strengthen our borders, respect the rule of law, modernize our antiquated visa system, and bolster the economy.”

Earlier in the day, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) excoriated House Republicans on the Senate floor for failing to act over the last year, saying they were beholden to conservatives like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has argued that virtually any immigration plan would amount to “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

"It is time for the House Republican leadership to decide whether they stand with the majority of the American people, and supposedly the majority of their conference, or if they're really going to let Steve King dictate the policy of the Republican Party on immigration," said Schumer, an architect of the Senate immigration bill.

"This is what Steve King wants. He wants the House to do nothing. He is winning, and America is losing," Schumer added.

Cristina Marcos contributed.