Conservative foes to immigration reform say leaders of the Conservative Political Action Committee have found a way to solve internal friction over the issue: ignore them.
While immigration remains one of the most divisive issues among conservatives, there was little sign of the divide inside the Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor. But below the surface it was another story.
“You don’t have to read the tea leaves,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “Immigration skeptics have been pushed out by Al Cardenas, it’s right there out in the open.”
Krikorian said pressure to quiet their opposition to reforms began to intensify in 2012 and became overt last year.
Cardenas has been an outspoken supporter of the immigration plan authored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) -- which was loudly rejected by the party’s most conservative members -- and has been vocal critic of the GOP’s failure to embrace a pathway to citizenship.
“Immigration in the national interest is completely not allowed here anymore,” said Rosemary Jenks, the director of government relations at NumbersUSA, a group that has pushed to reduce immigration.
Jenks added the increased involvement of the business community in the annual conservative confab has made CPAC a “kind of the corporate elites playground instead of [about] conservative principles.”
Cardenas rejected their complaints in an interview and pointed to a Thursday panel that, he said, fully represented the ideological divide on the issue.
“Some of the people that complained about it were invited to participate in the panel and declined,” he said. “My point of view is, if you have the courage of your convictions and if you feel strongly enough about your position you out to come here with this group of activists that are responsible and civil and constructive and share your point of view with others.”
But leaders of the groups charged that the “Can There be Meaningful Immigration Reform Without Citizenship?” panel was stacked against them, with only Derrick Morgan, vice president of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation, there to represent a more restrictive point of view.
“It used to be that at CPAC there was at least one panel that had two people from each side, and years ago it was three people on our side and kind of like what they are doing now, it was three on one only it was reversed,” Jenks said.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and immigration reform supporter, also rejected the complaints.
“There’s nothing ‘right’ about being ‘anti’ - you can be anti-immigrant but it has nothing to do with conservatism,” he said. “If no one’s talking about [their issue] in a nice way they have a problem with the electorate, with elected officials views of what they want to share with a conservative audience.”
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and one of the participants in Thursday’s panel, said groups that support a more restrictive immigration policy have lost their influence.
“They’ve been basically shut out and the reality is that, some people were saying they have been creating trouble for us and they really don’t represent the base of the party,” he said.