WASHINGTON – As the immigration reform bill makes its way through Congress, conservatives have been split on whether to support the bill. These differences were evident at the Faith & Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority 2013" conference as many of the speakers were on different sides of the issue.
Increased immigration can be an "engine of economic prosperity," former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said during his Friday speech. He noted that immigrants are more likely than non-immigrants to start new businesses. Also, immigrants are "more fertile." This will help the solvency of the nation's programs for the elderly – Medicare and Social Security – because those programs depend upon a high birth rate to create workers that will pay into the systems.
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin made fun of Bush's remarks about immigrant fertility in her speech closing out the conference on Saturday. Referring to the immigration bill as "amnesty," she advised against "comparing one race's fertility rate to another.
The audience laughed when the mother of five added, "and I say this as someone who's kinda fertile herself."
While Palin just spent a few lines on the topic, on Friday, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann devoted most of her speech to explaining why she opposed the immigration bill. Echoing a report from The Heritage Foundation, she argued that letting more immigrants into the country would be too costly because most of those immigrants would require more in government services than they pay in taxes.
In his speech on the same day, though, Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, warned the audience not to "drink the Kool-Aid," and assume that the immigration bill would increase the number of Democratic voters. In a speech mostly about how conservatives can, and should, reach out to Latino voters, he noted that most immigrants are highly religious, and those who are highly religious tend to prefer many aspects of conservatism over liberalism.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition, founded by Ralph Reed, represents social conservatives. The organizers of the conference did not attempt to downplay the differences in their movement on immigration. Indeed, the conference sought to further the conversation with a Friday panel representing a range of views on the topic.
The panel, called "Immigration Do's & Don'ts," had Rep. Steve Montenegro of the Arizona House of Representatives. The son of immigrants who lives in a border state, Montenegro emphasized the importance of border security.
"If you believe this bill will actually secure the border, raise your hand," Montenegro said. After no one raised their hand, he continued, "that's the problem we have."
Colleen Holcomb, executive director of Eagle Forum, argued that those who use scripture to support the immigration bill do not understand that the biblical mandate to love foreigners (Leviticus 19: 33-34) is a mandate for the Church, not for government.
Carlos Curbelo, a member of the Miami Dade County School Board, on the other hand, urged his audience to recognize that the immigrants who came to the United States without documentation did so to improve their lives and the lives of their children. There should be consequences for not following the law, he added, but he also reminded the audience that God is a god of second chances. "Give them a chance," he urged.
The panel was moderated by Dr. Carlos Campo, president of Regent University. During the Q&A, he recalled that during the 1970s and 1980s illegal immigration was encouraged in many ways in the United States because of industries that were in need of workers. The United States is, therefore, culpable in the current situation, he argued.
The United States "can resolve this in a fashion that's better than the current system," he said.