WASHINGTON -- An unorthodox coalition of conservative leaders – pastors, tech moguls, tea party farmers and the sheriff from Fresno County, Calif. – converged Tuesday on Washington to make the conservative case for an immigration overhaul.
It’s likely to be the last, best effort to convince Congress to vote on immigration legislation before lawmakers are consumed by the re-election campaign next year.
The massive effort comprises more than 600 conservatives from across the country who spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill meeting with about 150 members of Congress, primarily Republicans, and urging them to press their leaders to act on immigration this year.
With remnants of the partisan government-shutdown battle lingering, tackling immigration could be a chance for lawmakers to do something positive, said Bruce Josten, the head of government affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But it also might deepen divisions between more moderate Republicans who support an overhaul and hard-liners who oppose anything that can be perceived as rewarding those who entered the country illegally.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a business executive who’s been leading the immigration push, has said it’s time to remind members of Congress that their support comes with conditions.
“The sand in the hourglass is running low,” John Feinblatt, Bloomberg’s chief adviser, told hundreds of attendees at a morning conference at the Chamber of Commerce’s offices. “Doing nothing just risks the world passing us by. Our message is loud. It’s clear. It’s simple. And if Congress doesn’t listen, they can rest assured that our support may not be there in the next election.”
The immigration supporters are a large group with many different interests whose members acknowledge that they disagree over specific details of the type of makeover they’d prefer, notably whether a path to citizenship should be included. But they said they’d come together over the mutual goal that Congress needed to have a real debate.
This summer, the Senate passed a bill that would strengthen border security and provide a path to citizenship. But the Republican-led House of Representatives appears to have no intention of taking up the Senate’s proposal. Instead, it’s focused on a series of bills that tackle specific aspects of the debate, but the GOP leadership has yet to bring the measures to the floor for a vote.
With millions of Americans still out of work, some leaders fear that the changes would only increase competition for jobs.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said many business leaders who were lobbying Congress on Tuesday had been laying off American workers.
“This is a defining moment for the House Republicans,” he said. “They must decide who they represent: certain activist CEOs lobbying Congress, or the national interest and the millions of Americans struggling to get by in this low-job, low-wage economy.”
Some business leaders have argued that out-of-work Americans have rejected many low-skilled jobs, such as agricultural work.
More liberal advocacy groups have led most immigration pushes of this size. They appealed to members’ sense of compassion, arguing that current deportation laws divide families. They warned of a growing Latino voter base that might be more favorable to the party that appears to share its priorities.