Evangelical pastors, corporate leaders, elected Republican officials and small-government activists arrive in Washington next week to lobby lawmakers to revamp U.S. immigration policies before year’s end.
The “conservative fly-in” will involve about 600 people and include personal meetings with at least 80 Republican members of Congress, said Ali Noorani, an organizer of the event and executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
“When was the last time that you saw the conservative movement calling for something? Most of the time it’s, ’Stop this,’” Noorani said. “No Republican member really wants to do this, but they’re going to be hearing from constituents demanding that they do it, and do it this year.”
The Republican-to-Republican appeal is the latest tactic of immigration lobby groups that want to jar loose a Senate plan that passed in June and has been foundering in the other chamber. House Speaker John Boehner has said he won’t act on the Senate’s plan, with his caucus preferring instead to pass smaller bills.
The Democrat-led Senate and President Barack Obama have called for a comprehensive approach that includes a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Most of the participants in the lobbying campaign aren’t household names, yet they will be well-known to the lawmakers they’re meeting, Noorani said.
“These are the same people they’ll be sitting across from in a few months to ask for their vote or even for financial support,” he said.
Terry Boose, a state representative from Norwalk, Ohio, who is flying in for the effort, wants to talk to Boehner, one Republican lawmaker from Ohio to another.
“I’d like to tell him, and anyone else from Ohio who will listen, to think of immigration in terms of jobs, especially for our state’s agricultural industry,” he said. He’ll be working the halls with an Ohio farm owner who lost crops because he couldn’t find enough legal workers.
“Immigration is all about the economy. I think many of my fellow conservatives get that,” said Boose.
The fly-in is sponsored and paid for by Noorani’s National Immigration Forum, the Partnership for a New American Economy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and FWD.us, a technology group formed by Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg.
The Partnership for a New American Economy is an association of mayors and business leaders formed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
None of those groups is required by law to disclose donors or expenses, and representatives from the groups declined to say how much the fly-in will cost.
Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson will welcome the group at a reception the night of Oct. 28. Marriott’s chairman and former CEO Bill Marriott Jr. is one of eight co-leaders of the Partnership for a New American Economy, along with fellow Republican donor Rupert Murdoch, founder of media company News Corp., now called Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.
“It is time for Congress to pass pro-growth, pro-security measures that modernize our truly dysfunctional immigration system,” Sorenson said in a statement yesterday. “That begins with an honest and serious debate about the status of the undocumented, our need for an efficient system for employers to verify work eligibility, and the current failure of our legal immigration programs to meet the actual needs of the labor market.”
On Oct. 29, the group heads to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building across from the White House to listen to economists, religious leaders and Republican strategists make the case for comprehensive immigration revisions.
Among the scheduled speakers are Barrett Duke, a vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform.
Afterward, participants will head to Capitol Hill, where they had more than 120 meetings confirmed as of this week, including at least 80 with the members themselves.
Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, said the idea is to flood the Hill with “right-of-center” voices who favor changes in immigration law that reflect the Senate’s plan.
“We just feel that the lesser-told story of all this is the conservatives who embrace immigration,” he said. “We are seeing stories all over the country and wanted to bring them to Washington.”
Participants come from about 30 states and include a mix of local religious leaders, business owners, politicians, including Boose and Kris Steele, a former speaker of Oklahoma’s House of Representatives.
“Regardless of your political leanings, we all start with this agreement: The current system does not work,” Steele wrote about immigration in a Sept. 19 editorial in the Shawnee News-Star. He’s written several editorials on the topic in Oklahoma newspapers, each time basing his appeal for immigration policy changes partly on religion -- “Americans are all children of our God” -- as well as on economic grounds.
This isn’t the immigration advocates’ first attempt at wooing Republicans with their own.
FWD.us, Zuckerberg’s group, included Democratic and Republican subgroups when it began in April. The Republican version, called Americans for a Conservative Direction, includes as board members former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Joe Kaplan, a Facebook executive who served as a deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.
Americans for a Conservative Direction aired supportive advertisements for Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. All three have advocated for changing U.S. immigration policies.