Lindsay Graham says there are still obstacles to immigration reform but he is confident the deal will get done. (Getty Images)

Religious, business groups defend pro-immigration Republican Senator Graham

The South Carolina airwaves have become the latest battleground between pro- and anti-immigration reform groups. Today, three different groups – a group of Southern evangelical leaders, a conservative Republican super PAC, and a bipartisan group of U.S. Mayors and CEOs – announced the release of two ads supporting South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham.  The Republican Senator has come under fire in an ad campaign for his support for comprehensive immigration reform.  The ad, by Numbers USA, has a narrator asking questions like “Who elected Lindsey Graham to demand millions more immigrant workers when so many South Carolinians are jobless?” and then features several people answering, “Not me.”

Today, a group of evangelical religious leaders countered with their own advertising campaign.

“Just as those who oppose it (immigration reform) have been targeting South Carolina – the politicians need to hear from those who support them,” said Richard Land, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Land was joined by other religious leaders from South Carolina, and they announced a new radio campaign “to provide support and encouragement to continue to press for humane and common sense immigration reform.”

Land said South Carolina is important because two of its legislators are key in the immigration reform negotiations in Congress.  Republican Senator Lindsay Graham is part of the Gang of Eight Senators currently working on a bipartisan immigration reform plan, and Republican Congressman Trey Goudy is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration and border security.

Later in the day, two groups – one bipartisan, one a conservative Republican super PAC – also announced the release of an ad, this one saying Senator Graham is “right on target” in wanting immigration reform to help South Carolina businesses.  “A modern economy needs modern immigration laws – and Senator Graham gets that,” says Bryan Derreberry, president and CEO of the Charleston, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

This ad was paid for by Republicans for Immigration Reform, a super PAC formed by former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to give financial support to candidates who support immigration reform.  In recent comments to NBC Latino, Gutierrez said that “as a party, we cannot allow individuals who are anti-immigration to make statements which are then used as party statements,” later adding, “We cannot achieve our prosperity without a robust immigration policy.”

Joining the Republican super PAC in support of  Senator Graham was the Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group of mayors and business leaders, including San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  “We think it’s fundamentally important that business leaders speak up – we’ve been doing a huge amount of work with South Carolina leaders,” said Partnership’s Jeremy Robbins.

University of California-Irvine political scientist Louis DeSipio says the overt participation of evangelical and business groups in support of Senator Graham’s immigration views “reflects an understanding on the part of immigration reform advocates that they need a multifaceted approach,”  he says, to avoid previous failures to achieve immigration reform legislation.

While evangelical groups have supported immigration reform for years, “the evangelical community is becoming more vocal,” says Desipio.  On the business side, says Desipio, there is a consensus that the tradeoff for increasing the number of highly-skilled immigrants and some sort of guest worker program is to support comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  “The business groups understand  this notion of compromise,” says Desipio.

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