A group of 100 high-profile Republicans is throwing its weight behind immigration reform, warning in a letter to Congress that the GOP cannot risk doing nothing to address the fate of the 11 million people in the country illegally.
"Standing in the way of reform ensures that we ... risk a long-lasting perception that Republicans would rather see nothing done than pass needed reform," the group wrote. "That is not the path for the Republican Party."
Former Bush administration Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who organized the effort, said the group's goal was to help convince Republican lawmakers that there are more people within the party that support comprehensive reform than oppose it. Gutierrez also has been working with other Republicans on a political action committee for immigration reform.
Among those who signed the letter are former Vice President Dan Quayle, GOP strategist Karl Rove and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, as well as dozens of business executives.
House GOP leaders have said they will not support a comprehensive bill passed by the Senate that would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and increase border security measures. Instead, the House has begun deliberating on smaller-scale proposals focused on border control and visas for high-skilled workers.
Congress will break Aug. 1 for a five-week summer recess, during which members will return to their home districts, a period immigration advocates expect to be pivotal in how the House decides to resume the debate in the fall.
In the letter, the group of Republicans endorse giving undocumented immigrants legal status, but do not mention a special path to citizenship. The Senate bill would provide such immigrants green cards after 10 years and citizenship after 13, provided they pay fees, remain employed and do not commit crimes.
Gutierrez, now the vice chairman of Albright Stonebridge Group, said the GOP group envisions that the immigrants could apply for citizenship through already existing channels after becoming legalized.
"Republicans ought to be welcoming immigrants and be seen as doing so," the group wrote. "We firmly believe that with meaningful action on immigration reform, there is opportunity for both good policy and good politics for Republicans."