Where’s the center-right pressure on Republicans to act on immigration?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Tom Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, published a pretty good piece today on immigration reform. He argued that the status quo is unacceptable, that immigration is good for the economy and for the country, and that there will never be any time to get this done that will be politically easier than it is now.

All true. But one word is missing from Donohue’s piece: “Republicans.” He urged “Congress” to act, but never focused directly on the party that’s actually standing in the way of reform.

To people closely following this debate from the left, this perfectly captures a lingering question: Will GOP-aligned groups on the center right get serious about actually pressuring the GOP to act, or will these groups continue to mouth calls for action while in effect giving Republicans a pass if they fail to budge this year?

The center right groups in question are business groups like the Chamber, but also local business groups across the country; agricultural and high tech interests, including groups like Forward US; and growers associations out west. Are these folks going to run ads pressuring Republicans to act? Will they extract any kind of political price for inaction? Then there’s the GOP consultant class, many of whom know not acting now is folly. How vocal will they be?

There’s an interesting contrast here. Left leaning immigration advocates and liberal groups have been pressuring Dems hard on the issue, signaling that if reform doesn’t get done, there will be intense pressure on Obama to act via executive authority to stop deportations for more classes of the 11 million, as he did for DREAMers. Indeed, a network of young immigration activists is reportedly poised to gear up that pressure on Obama in a major way. There isn’t any comparable push on Republicans from the center right.

“Liberal immigration advocates have an uneasy relationship with Democrats on this issue — Democrats know these groups could turn on them at any moment,” Frank Sharry, the head of pro-immigration America’s Voice, tells me. “There’s just no similar dynamic with Republicans.”

The oddest thing about this disparity is that it comes even as there are signs that notions of pressure on Republicans from the far right not to act may be overstated. Julia Preston had a wonderful piece this weekend detailing the case of Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, who is a staunch conservative but is under pressure from local interests (farmers, hotel owners, manufactures) to act on reform. He convened a local town hall meeting to discuss the need for immigration reform, and held it in Spanish. He even said:

“I am more than willing to have a discussion about allowing at least part of the 11 million people here illegally to have some type of status,” he said. “I’m just disappointed that more people in my party don’t want to do that.”

Preston reports that Mulvaney’s aides waited nervously for the backlash from the right. It was muted at best.

And so, will there be more pressure — from GOP-aligned pro-reform groups — on other Republicans who are inclined to act but are proving too cautious to move just yet? A good deal of press attention has been lavished on lefty groups planning to turn up the heat on House Republicans, after John Boehner seemed to put reform on ice this year. The more important story, however, concerns what center right groups will do. After all, they are in a position to influence House Republicans, and lefty groups aren’t.

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