WASHINGTON – Business owners, law enforcement officials and evangelicals attending this week's National Immigration Forum in Washington, D.C., converged Tuesday to call out the "small minority" of the Republican Party that is halting immigration reform and urged for bipartisan effort to pass reform.
Brad Bailey, a restaurant owner and CEO of the Texas Immigration Solutions, told reporters that a small yet vocal part of the Republican Party hijacked the discussion about illegal immigrants over four months ago at the GOP's national convention. When he and others tried to change the immigration portion of the party's platform, Bailey said, "They attacked us five times."
However, he and others in town for the National Immigration Forum's strategy sessions Tuesday and Wednesday are forging a new coalition to push for immigration reform. The bipartisan coalition has representatives from the conservative states of Utah and Texas, and Hispanics and faith leaders who are vocal proponents for policies that keep immigrant families together.
The coalition's message is that immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers living in the United States illegally and helps foreign students and scholars navigate the visa process is moral, biblical and at the very least, politically expedient.
"Both parties can win on this," said Bailey.
The Rev. Luis Cortes Jr., president of the Hispanic group Esperanza, quoted pollsters saying it was the Hispanic voting bloc that helped sway key states such as Florida to Barack Obama. Although many Hispanics hold the conservative convictions similar to that of Republicans, Cortes said they are voting for reform that will keep their communities and families together.
"The Hispanic vote moved away from social values to family values. They moved from social values to family values. That was not understood," said Cortes.
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez also challenged the notion that Republicans overwhelmingly favor border control, anti-amnesty and self-deportation policies.
"Every single survey out there, across the board, it validates the idea that the majority of Americans, the majority of Republicans, the majority of conservatives, the majority of Democrats, the majority of Christians – evangelical, Catholics – business owners, progressives and conservatives, left and right support immigration reform. And we're not talking about 52 percent, we're talking in the 60s and in some cases 78, 82 percent. The majority of Americans support this," he detailed.
Rodriguez, who also serves as a senior editorial adviser for The Christian Post, denounced small special interest groups like Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) for "hijacking" the debate. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtkeff said such groups unfairly use the term "amnesty" to malign the compassionate efforts to solve the problem while keeping immigrant families together.
Still the coalition remains hopeful that 2013 will be much different. Members pointed to conservative Fox News commentator Sean Hannity's about-face after the Nov. 6 election as a sign that FAIR and similar special groups have been defeated. "They are increasingly shown themselves to be all chiefs and no Indians. They lost [the election]," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Land warned of attacks from the left that seek to sabotage immigration reform for votes. "On the left there are some who want to continue to not have the issue solved so that they can inflame the Hispanic community to vote overwhelming Democrat and also some in the radical parts of the labor party movement. They don't want to see this because it's taking away union jobs," he told The Christian Post, where he also serves as executive editor.
"The country is hungry to see our political leaders work together," urged Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis.
Rodriguez noted that Hispanics remain skeptical that President Barack Obama is serious about immigration reform.
The group participated in a number of panel discussions and meetings with Congressional members and White House staff on Tuesday and will continue on Wednesday to advocate for a bipartisan approach to immigration reform.