Vince Gonzales said he doesn’t travel much outside the Latino evangelical world as a Texas pastor. But there he was Tuesday among a very diverse crowd at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, minutes from meeting with House members to urge them to advance immigration reform.
Compelling him outside his normal environment was the issue of immigration reform and his like-mindedness with hundreds of other conservatives that it urgently needs to be done.
“Coming here has given me the opportunity to speak directly to the country’s leadership,” said Gonzales, who leads a 200-member congregation in Farmers Branch, Texas. He said his members are about a third immigrants and two-thirds the children and grandchildren of immigrants.
Hundreds of conservative business, agriculture, evangelical and political leaders were presenting a different face than usually is seen on immigration reform.
Wearing business suits and many carrying Republican credentials, the group hoped they could show that the U.S. can and should secure its borders and bring millions of people into legal status and that the issue is important to the American economy.
The Senate has passed a sweeping immigration bill, while the House is passing several separate bills on different aspects of immigration. The House leadership has been coy about whether it plans to move those bills to the floor this year so it can go to conference committee with the Senate to negotiate differences.
On Tuesday, a second Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, became the second GOP House member to sign on to a Democratic immigration bill in the House that is largely similar to the House version with a change to border security provisions.
However. Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., said he was “just not there yet” to sign on to the bill though he said he has been looking at the bill and going over details of it with Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., its chief sponsor.
Before heading to Capitol Hill, the conservatives gathered first at the Chamber of Commerce to hear from leaders and get tips on how to talk to the congressional members with whom they had meetings. Gonzales, whose city prohibited landlords from renting to immigrants illegally in the country, was to meet with Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.
The conservatives were urged to dispel myths about immigration and to speak of the economic benefits of immigration reform.
In a question and answer session, Alberto Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, was asked how to bring along a freshman congressman who said he is for immigration reform but believes his constituents in his district are not.
Cardenas said polling data shows otherwise and the House member should be reminded of what his constitutional duties to the people he represents are, that his duties are not just to the most vocal constituents.
“This challenge on immigration reform and the future of our nation’s economic development rests on getting this right and getting it done now,” Cardenas said. “He needs to move forward and do what’s right for this country and do it now.”
There was more advice in the morning panel that also included tax reformer Grover Norquist; Barrett Duke, an official with the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics and religious liberty commission; Frank Keating, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association; Fresno County, Calif. Sheriff Margaret Mims and Tom Nassif, president and CEO of the Western Growers Association.
For 21-year-old Fred Diego, a student at Indiana University, the reasons to be there were more personal. An immigrant from Guerrero, Mexico, he was brought to the country by his parents who entered illegally.
He said he considered the issue consistent with Christian beliefs and hoped to bring cut through what has been a “tenuous relationship” between Hispancis and conservative Christians.
“It’s not a brown issue. It is an American issue,” said Diego, who has been able to go to college on a full academic scholarship. Indiana does not allow immigrants not legally in the country to pay lower, in-state tuition.
The attendees filled a large meeting room and spilled over into an overflow room.
In conjunction with the meeting the Bipartisan Policy Center issued a report using the Senate-passed immigration reform bill to assess the impact of immigration and reforms.
Overall, the study found immigration reform produces economic benefits that adds new, younger workers who increase the size and strength of the labor force, jumpstart new housing construction, reduce deficits in the long-term, offset the aging workforce and increase wages over time.
The study was done by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s immigration task force that is co-chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros and former Louisana Gov. Haley Barbour and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
“A balanced understanding of the costs and benefits of immigration reform is crucial to this process. We believe it is both critical and possible to develop a bipartisan approach to immigration reform …,” the co-chairs said in a statement.
John Feinblatt, chairman of the Partnership for a New American Economy which was one of the organizers of the event, told the crowd that it was “up to us to make sure our leaders understand that they, in fact, by doing nothing, are handcuffing the economy.”