Group leaders say they hope to bring a fresh, outsiders’ perspective to the debate, with testimonials from rural and suburban sheriffs, local preachers, even the director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association. Rather than dwelling on the politics of the issue, these conservative leaders plan to cast the issue based on how they see it in their communities — in moral and economic terms.
“There’s a radical, loud element out there that just doesn’t seem to get it, that will never get it,” said Mark Curran, the Republican sheriff of Lake County, Ill., and a participant in this week’s activities. “They shouldn’t be given any real deference anymore.”
Curran, a devout Catholic, once held hard-line, anti-illegal immigration views, but changed his mind in 2010 during conversations with clergy and business leaders. He thinks some conservative House members could undergo a similar conversion.
“The political realities and the realities of my faith started to collide, and I couldn’t reconcile it anymore,” he said.
The effort comes at a time of soul-searching among senior Republicans, who have concluded that President Obama’s dominance among Hispanic voters and other groups, such as Asian Americans, resulted at least in part from years of hard-line opposition by conservative Republicans to more liberalized immigration laws. Many believe that 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney alienated Hispanic voters when he tilted to the right during his primary campaign, supporting a policy of “self-
deportation” for immigrants while attacking rivals for being too soft on the issue.
It also underscores a shift in tactics by immigrant advocates, who for years have made it their central goal to win a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States. Now, joining forces with conservative leaders, some advocates on the left say they are willing to consider a scaled-back approach, perhaps a legalization plan that stops short of citizenship, if it would bring House Republicans to the table.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the most vocal backers of a path to citizenship, remains steadfastly in that camp. Still, he said that “we’ve got to stop setting preconditions before we have conversations, and that’s something that’s changed.”
The conservative activists coming to Washington this week for their “national strategy session” plan to host lawmakers from both parties at a breakfast Wednesday before fanning out to meet with House and Senate members. The primary messages will focus on values, including the importance of keeping immigrant families together, and economics, such as the crucial role played by immigrant labor for agriculture and technology businesses.