Immigration reform groups react after Rubio speaker portrays them as unholy misanthropes

Immigration reform groups are responding cautiously to the Feb. 14 revelation that Sen. Marco Rubio’s aides apparently tried to portray them as left-wing, anti-Christian misanthropes.

Their low-key response has helped tamp down the potential conflict with Rubio, who is working with seven other senators on a controversial rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws.

The senator’s spokesman, Alex Conant, also downplayed the revelations sketched in the Washington Post’s article.

“We are not focused on these groups whatsoever,” said Conant. “Our focus is on passing an immigration reform plan that secures the border and modernizes our legal immigration system,” he told The Daily Caller.

The Washington Post article said Rubio’s aides invited an advocate for large-scale immigration to an early February meeting of Senate staffers.

The advocate — Mario Lopez, the president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund — distributed an article slamming the reform groups who are seeking to shrink the number of immigrants coming into the country, which now stands at roughly 1 million per year.

The reform groups — principally NumbersUSA, the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform — are engaged in a high-stakes fight against pro-immigration groups over the terms of an immigration bill being drafted by Rubio and seven other senators that favor large-scale immigration.

The pro-immigration groups include progressives, ethnic lobbies and business interests. They’re pushing for a major rewrite of immigration law that would provide a conditional amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants, and also invite millions of their family members, plus many skilled and unskilled workers, into the United States, despite the high unemployment, stalled wages and huge annual deficits. (RELATED — Immigration advocate slams Grover Norquist: He doesn’t give a “damn” about workers)

Rubio is an influential player in the ongoing negotiations over the immigration deal, because he can rally Republican senators to kill a bad deal at modest political cost, and use public skepticism over amnesty to win a better deal from Democrats.

However, Rubio has less ability to rally GOP supporters in favor of a bad deal, partly because the reform groups can rally the Republican base — and many swing voters — against amnesty and large-scale immigration of new workers.

At the February meeting, Lopez portrayed the reform groups as a creation of John Tanton, a major environmentalist donor who wants a smaller global population.

The groups are funded by radical environmentalists, and they’re not conservative, Lopez told TheDC. Their political advice to the GOP is terrible, and “from what I’ve seen their data is bad … but I’m not a data guy.”

“When conservatives sit around a table to decide what to do about immigration, maybe they should not be there,” he said.

The same message is being pushed by Lopez’s political allies, including Alfonso Aguilar, director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.

“In our visits to senators and members of Congress, we’ve been sharing [Lopez’s] article and educating members about the groups,” he told TheDC. The groups also “fabricate data to advance their agenda,” said Aguilar, who is director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.

Aguilar’s group is part of the American Principles Project, a Washington-based conservative advocacy group run by Frank Cannon, who is also promoting Lopez’s pitch.

“FAIR, NumbersUSA and CIS were started, and are staffed and funded, by a cabal of radical environmentalists, zero population ideologues and Planned Parenthood promoters … [who are] wedded to the long-discredited Malthusian view that ‘people are pollution,” Cannon wrote in an op-ed for Politico, a Virginia-based website and newspaper.

Cannon was a founder of a Capital City Partners, an advocacy firm which closed its doors in November. The firm’s clients included La Raza, the Hispanic lobby, which hired the partners to push for an “comprehensive immigration reform” bill in 2006 and 2007.

That bill included several immigration-promotion provisions similar to those in the bill now being pushed by Rubio and the bipartisan “gang of eight” reformers.

The gang includes Sens. Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, as well as four Democratic senators.

The three reform groups reply that they’re single-issue groups, devoid of partisan affiliations or any hostility to people. They’re just focused on immigration reforms that help Americans, and they’re also trying to keep good relations with Rubio, said the groups’ members.

“We do not take, and have never taken, positions on any issues other than immigration,” said a Feb. 14 email to Rubio’s office from Rosemary Jenks, the government relations chief of NumbersUSA. “I just wanted to let you know that I am sorely disappointed to know that your office is actively engaged in a baseless smear campaign against NumbersUSA.”