Tea Party group endorses immigration overhaul


McClatchy Washington Bureau

The conservative pitch for an immigration overhaul received a lift this week when a Tea Party leader pledged his support for bringing a vote to the House floor this year.

“Our economy, our security, and our citizens deserve a system that works,” said Sal Russo, co-founder of the Tea Party Express. “Tea Party voters want solutions to the real problems facing America and immigration is no exception. We encourage Congress to take action this year and provide conservative, free-market, common sense solutions to the problems in our immigration system.”

Advocates for an overhaul see the endorsement by a far-right leader as a game changer reflecting growing acceptance that now is the time to address the nation’s immigration problems. But the Tea Party is far from a monolithic group. And its unclear how far Russo’s views extend into the conservative arena, which has largely opposed a legal means for the 11 million undocumented immigrants to remain in the country.

By Thursday, Russo’s support appeared to wane a bit under heavy criticism from conservative groups. Another Tea Party group, The Tea Party Patriots, issued a statement almost immediately after Russo’s announcement saying there is already a legal path to citizenship for those wishing to come to the United States.

“Anyone who decides to get off that path and enter the United States illegally should not be given any sort of amnesty because doing so is neither fair nor equal treatment under the law,” Jenny Beth Martin, the Patriot’s co-founder.

Speaking to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, Russo sought to further explain his position. But in excerpts released by the show, Russo told Ingraham that he agrees with Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-A.L., on key aspects of the immigration debate. Sessions is one of the most vocal opponents of current proposals to grant a legal means for those here illegally to remain in the country.

The announcement of Russo’s endorsement is part of a coordinated push to bring a vote to the House floor. The leaders include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pro-overhaul group, Partnership for New American Economy, and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. They released a survey of 400 GOP primary voters that found 76 percent supported a plan that include both improved border security and a way for undocumented immigrants already in the country to remain legally.

They were joined by conservative supporters across the country. In North Carolina, GOP supporters included county commissioners, business leaders, and the head of the college Republicans.

“Our immigration system is broken and outdated, and as a result we have lost talented workers to other nations,” said Nate Pencook, chairman emeritus of the North Carolina Federation of College Republicans. “We need comprehensive reform to keep America competitive in the global employment pool.”

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