A group of conservative evangelical leaders has been pushing their fellow conservatives to embrace immigration reform, in part as a way to make the Religious Right and the Republican Party more appealing to the nation’s growing Latino population. Ralph Reed has been among those supporting the idea of a comprehensive reform bill, but at his Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference in Washington DC, many of the “Teavangelical” activists – people who are part of both the Tea Party and Religious Right movement – aren’t buying.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who has been telling white evangelicals that they should embrace an influx of Jesus-loving Latinos as the salvation of Christianity in America, spoke in Friday morning’s session. He urged attendees not to drink the anti-immigrant “Kool-aid.” He told them not to believe the charge that 11 million immigrants would become Democratic voters if given citizenship. The conservative movement does not exist to conserve pigmentation or a white majority, he said, and it needs some “salsa sauce” on top.
Unfortunately for Rodriguez and his fellow proponents of immigration reform, two previous speakers, Gary Bauer and Allen West, had already spoken in disparaging terms about the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill moving through the Senate. Bauer said Republicans in Washington spend too much time listening to consultants rather than standing firm on their principles. “You don’t have to go off and pass amnesty,” he said. Former Congressman Allen West said that the “illegal immigration and amnesty bill” would make life harder for African Americans. And immediately following Rodriguez to the microphone was Phyllis Schlafly, who ramped up the rhetoric, telling attendees that they should threaten to run primary challengers against Senate Republicans who voted for the immigration bill.
Driving home that message was Colleen Holcomb, executive director of Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. Holcomb was part of a panel on immigration reform that was moderated by Carlos Campo, president of Pat Robertson’s Regent University. Campo, who backs immigration reform, introduced Holcomb as a Regent alum, but that didn’t deter her from making slashing attacks on the Senate immigration bill. In fact, she at least indirectly criticized Campo and Ralph Reed himself when she said she was “profoundly offended” when faith leaders suggested that there was a biblical mandate for this kind of bill. She urged people to take advantage of resources available at www.stopgangof8.com. Holcomb later agreed with a questioner that it was an “outrageous lie” to suggest that the Senate bill reflects conservative principles.
Panelist Carlos Curbelo of the Miami-Dade County School Board tried to convince audience members that the current bill is not “amnesty” the way the 1986 immigration bill had been. Another panelist, state rep Steve Montenegro of Arizona, said the bill needed to include stronger border security provisions. When he asked for a show of hands – not a single person said they trusted that the Senate bill would secure the border. And when he followed up, asking in effect, but how many of you would be willing to work with provisions of the bill if it did secure the border, very few hands went up.
It seems clear that Reed’s audience is more in sync with Schlafly than Rodriguez. That may be why Reed, who says reform should reflect Judeo-Christian principles – which he says include strengthening the family, respecting the rule of law, meeting the needs of the U.S. economy, and including “enforcement triggers” on border security – is also careful to include vehement denunciations of “amnesty” and “guaranteed paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently residing in the country.”
A new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings Institution documents that broad and growing support for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for immigrants now in the country illegally, cuts across religious and political lines. Sixty-three percent of Americans, including majorities of all religious groups, agree that immigration reform should provide a path to citizenship, along with 71% of Democrats, 64% of independents, and 53% of Republicans. The survey’s unusually large size – 4,465 interviews conducted in both English and Spanish – allowed the pollsters to draw conclusions about religious and political subgroups.
In a panel discussion of the poll results in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, March 21, Brookings fellow William Galston pointed out that 58% of white working class Americans support the DREAM Act and 56% support reform that includes a path to citizenship.
Columnist and Brookings fellow E.J. Dionne noted that the “halfway” position that has been promoted by some Republicans – a legal status that falls short of citizenship – is the least popular of three options among rank-and-file Republicans – after a path to citizenship and mass deportation. Dionne noted that on immigration reform the Republican leadership has a “coalition management problem” that Democrats do not face.
On that point, Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, said that the Tea Party represented the biggest challenge for pro-reform Republicans. Tea Party supporters were the only group expressing majority support for a “self-deportation” strategy. Among Republicans, 57% of evangelicals not associated with the Tea Party support a path to citizenship. Among non-evangelical Tea Party members, support for a path to citizenship is 46%; support drops to 44% among Republicans who are white evangelicals and Tea Party members. Jones said this “Teavangelicals” group constitutes about 10 percent of the Republican rank-and-file; in contrast, Republicans who are neither Tea Partiers or evangelicals make up nearly half of those who consider themselves Republicans and 54% of them support a path to citizenship.
The anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is none too happy with this week’s bipartisan Senate immigration reform proposal, which includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In an interview with the American Family Association’s Sandy Rios, FAIR communications director Bob Dane singled out Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the GOP’s strongest voices in favor of reform. Dane said that Rubio is like Pac-Man, who “ran along the edge of the screen on the right side and then disappeared [until] he sort of suddenly reappeared on the left.”
Echoing right-wing immigration reform opponents like Jim DeMint, Steve King and Bryan Fischer, Dane argued that supporting immigration reform would ultimately lead to the GOP’s “self-destruction” because undocumented immigrants are “heavily government-dependent” and are “all going to vote Democrat.”
Rios: Are you disappointed that Marco Rubio has come down the way he’s come down on this issue?
Dane: Look, Rubio is a good guy. It reminds me of the old Pac-Man video game. When Pac-Man ran along the edge of the screen on the right side and then disappeared, he sort of suddenly reappeared on the left, back onto the playing field. The Republicans are pushing amnesty. Rubio is either going to be the hero or the goat on this, this could go either way, this is a very high-wire act for him.
It’s a knee-jerk reaction by Republicans to Romney’s poor showing with Hispanics in the recent election. But they’ve got to be very careful. Frankly, our opinion is the Republicans, the GOP is setting the stage for a self-destruction. Here’s why. An amnesty bill is going to split that party. The Republicans aren’t going to get any credit. And finally, what sense does it make to grant an amnesty to 12 million heavily government-dependent illegal aliens when they’re all going to vote Democrat?
DeMint was unhappy with President Obama’s immigration proposal and the bipartisan framework presented this week in the Senate, both of which include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Democrats, he claimed, “are much more interested in new voters and union members than they are in fixing the system and honoring our heritage of immigration.”
Unfortunately, and I’ve worked with the folks who are advocating for this for a number of years and it appears the Democrats are much more interested in new voters and union members than they are in fixing the system and honoring our heritage of immigration. I don’t think we can help our naturalized American citizens by tearing down those things that create the opportunity in our country, and border sovereignty, rule of law, those things create the freedom and opportunity that immigrants come here for. And if we change the things that make us successful then we hurt the very people that we’re saying we want to help. So this is an irrational approach in my mind. I know there’s some people involved with this who want to do the right thing and solve the problem. But I’m afraid the people driving this, like the president, are just more interested in the citizenship track than they really are fixing our system.
DeMint, the architect of the 2010 Tea Party takeover, also denied that the GOP needs to moderate its positions to appeal to more voters after its drubbing among women, young people, African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans in 2012. “We’re just not telling our story well and we’re not doing a good job of showing the victims of progressive liberal policies,” DeMint said. “And there are a lot of them around the country and minorities are the biggest victims of these policies.”
We have ideas that we want people to embrace because those ideas make our country better and lives better for Americans. So it’s easier for Obama, who just finds out what people want to hear and he tells them that. He doesn’t have to deliver any particular policy or laws. We do. But we have success stories all over. We have fantastic job creation where energy is being developed in states. We have job creation where you have freedom in the workplace not to join a union, that’s why Boeing is in South Carolina. We’re just not telling our story well and we’re not doing a good job of showing the victims of progressive liberal policies. And there are a lot of them around the country and minorities are the biggest victims of these policies. I’d say Republicans have done a miserable job of communicating. And that’s why I left the Senate. We need to take our message directly to the American people and make those ideas so winsome that candidates have to embrace them.
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way praised the bipartisan immigration reform framework presented today in the Senate, which includes a path toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“This bipartisan framework is a hugely important step toward reforming our immigration system in a way that reflects our values and also bolsters our economy,” said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way. “For too long, extreme voices on the Right have kept us from meaningful, necessary immigration reform. The framework presented today rightly includes a path to citizenship, recognizing and enhancing the contributions of millions of American workers.”
“This framework sets the right course for meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform,” added Keegan. “We must make sure that as the details of the bill are filled in, that its original purpose and values are preserved. There will be extremist voices attempting to stop or dilute these reforms at every turn. We must remain vigilant to ensure that we achieve common-sense, constructive reform.”
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action today praised the bipartisan immigration framework unveiled today in the Senate, which includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and their children.
“For too long, inadequate and inhumane immigration laws have hurt our immigrants and held all Americans back,” said Reverend Timothy F. McDonald, III, chairman of African American Ministers in Action. “Today’s proposal is an important step forward as we strive for an immigration system that helps our country thrive while treating all people with humanity and respect. Our brothers and sisters who come to this country for a better life – from Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean and around the world – are as deserving of the opportunity for full citizenship as any of the millions of men, women and children who have come to this country throughout our history. We join others in the faith and progressive communities in expressing our thankfulness to lawmakers of both parties who are keeping this basic principle in mind as they strengthen our immigration laws.”