WASHINGTON—The fiscal cliff is driving politicians apart on Capitol Hill this week, but one issue is bringing them together: immigration reform.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and several congressional Republicans rallied on Wednesday with Democrats including Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, to call for sweeping changes in U.S. immigration law.
“It’s already a success when Sheila Jackson Lee can come into a room with Grover Norquist and stand in agreement,” Jackson Lee said.
The National Immigration Forum organized Wednesday’s gathering as part of a two-day event called “Forging a New Consensus.” It brought together about 250 law enforcement officials, clergy, and business owners (those with “badges, Bibles, and business”) from 26 states. After a six-hour strategy session Tuesday, the group converged on Capitol Hill Wednesday to meet with leaders ranging from prominent House and Senate members to Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Barack Obama.
The lobbying effort was aimed at all political leaders, but especially Republicans who have staked out an enforcement-only position on immigration and might be willing to reconsider after last month’s losses at the polls included sparse Hispanic support. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, noted that an immigration bill “won’t happen without House conservatives” and should include strong border security.
The activists are hoping to enact legislation along the lines of the Utah Compact, a 2010 document some have called the “gold standard” for conservative immigration reform. It includes five platform planks: creating federal solutions, respecting law enforcement, supporting families, affirming economic benefits, and maintaining a free society.
In legislative terms, the coalition supports a temporary guest worker program and a pathway to legal status for those already in the United States, while also advocating for stronger borders.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, spoke at a Tuesday press conference with the group and said Republicans should not only pass immigration reform but also embrace it. “God has definite opinions about how we treat ‘the stranger among us,’” he said.
He told me about 40 percent of the denomination’s 500,000 Hispanic members are undocumented, and he estimates 80 percent of Southern Baptists agree with his immigration position. Land said the current political climate is a “kairos moment”—a Greek term for opportunity that other speakers repeated after him—and Republicans should rally for the cause. “Do you want to win elections or lose elections?” he said.
The coalition is pushing for comprehensive immigration reform in the first three months of President Obama’s second term. Norquist pointed to the welfare reform legislation of 1996 as evidence that a Republican Congress can work with a Democratic president to reach agreement early in a lame-duck term.