Evangelicals Wooed by Businesses for Immigration Revamp

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is wooing religious groups to overcome opposition of conservative lawmakers to immigration-law revisions as Congress is poised to consider the issue.

“The left has never been the problem on this,” Randel Johnson, the chamber’s senior vice president for labor and immigration issues, said today at an event in Washington. “The right is the problem.”

The chamber, the largest U.S. business-lobbying group, and President Barack Obama’s administration are seeking to rewrite immigration laws, which they say limits access to workers. House Republicans say they will take up the issue this year after declining to consider a Senate-passed bill last year.

Johnson said Tea Party-backed candidates and Republicans aren’t the chief obstacles to change.

“This issue doesn’t divide by the so-called Tea Party or non-Tea Party members,” he said, adding that the chamber has had more than 150 meetings with lawmakers and their staffs on Capitol Hill to discuss the issue.

Evangelical groups’ support can help win over conservatives, Johnson said. In November, the Southern Baptist Convention and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined the chamber in urging Congress to act on the issue.

The event co-sponsored by the chamber featured former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder -- both Republicans -- and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Economic Growth

“The reality is without immigration our workforce down the road doesn’t grow,” Gutierrez said. “And if our workforce doesn’t grow, our economy doesn’t grow.”

Obama may speak on the immigration issue in his Jan. 28 State of the Union speech, and Congress plans to take up the issue in the coming weeks.

House Republicans have said they plan to move piecemeal legislation on immigration this year. They are are drafting a statement of principles that would guide their effort, and an agreement could come next week at their annual retreat.

Republicans have tied support for immigration changes with tougher border security. Some elements have already advanced in committee and probably would be included in any deal. The issue yet to be resolved is how to deal with 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Cantor, Ryan

While Republican House leaders -- including Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan -- have backed some path to gaining legal status, even if citizenship is never an option. Opponents say even that would count as amnesty, which would draw fire from conservatives.

The Senate in June passed 68-32 the most significant revision of U.S. immigration law in a generation. The bill’s backers had hoped the vote would pressure the Republican-controlled House to act.

The Senate measure would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants now in the U.S., while directing $46.3 billion to shore up the border with Mexico. The border provisions -- the costliest plan ever -- were added on the Senate floor to win Republican support.