Chamber pushes Boehner to pass immigration bill

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Business and progressive groups rallied at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Oct. 29 to reassure Speaker of the House John Boehner that he’ll get their political support if he schedules a major vote on immigration.

“He’s said in the press that the House should take up immigration reform and he plans to do it,” said Randel Johnson, the chamber’s vice president for immigration.

“I think he want to get this done, but it is our job to show that there is support in the business community and the evangelical community and in other conservative Republican groups that they’ll be there to back him up when he makes his decisions,” he told The Daily Caller.

“We’ve got his back,” said Johnson, a former congressional staffer, who has known Boehner for 20 years.

The chamber is not pushing Boehner to pass the Senate bill on the House floor. “We have always said that the House has its own process and should move the different bills in a way they see appropriate,” said a chamber official. The chamber wants a “common sense immigration reform” bill, the official said.

But critics fear that if the House approves even a small immigration bill, Boehner would allow the subsequent joint House and Senate conference committee to create an ambitious bill similar to the Senate bill, and he would send that bill to the House floor for a vote.

If Boehner schedules a floor vote on the Senate bill or on a joint conference report similar to the Senate bill, it would likely pass, despite strenuous opposition from GOP-friendly and single-issue groups.

The bill would pass because almost the entire Democratic caucus will support the ambitious bill. Business lobbies and progressive reporters could concentrate their efforts to persuade roughly 20 GOP legislators to approve the unpopular bill.

The opponents include conservatives, tea party groups and organizations such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and NumbersUSA. Many polls show the Senate bill is unpopular among swing voters, and especially among GOP-leaning voters.

Also, numerous GOP legislators say President Barack Obama can’t be trusted to negotiate or implement his side of any immigration deal.

If approved by the House, the Senate’s immigration bill would bring in two million working-age immigrants and almost two million guest workers a year — or roughly one person for each of the four million Americans who will turn 18 that year. Overall, the bill would ensure the award roughly 33 million green cards to illegal immigrants and new immigrants over the next decade, in a time of accelerating automation, high unemployment, declining wages, and increasing public worries about the future.

Surveys also shows that new immigrants, especially lower skilled Latinos, vote for Democratic candidates by lopsided margins.

So far, Boehner has equivocated.

He has said that he supports aspects of the Senate bill, and has approved the drafting by GOP legislators of several House bill that would increase the inflow of guest workers. But he has not scheduled a floor vote during the remaining weeks of the contentious session.

The Chamber of Commerce rally included many representatives from state Chambers of Commerce, some business leaders, and many left-of-center evangelicals organized by a progressive group, the National Immigration Forum.

Companies in Kansas need more workers for low-skill and high-skill jobs, such as health care and engineering jobs, said Eric Stafford of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

The House should support the Senate bill because companies in Utah need more workers, said Jason Mathis, a vice president at the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce.

Evangelicals are increasingly supportive of immigration because they recognize that they have a biblical duty to help strangers, said Gary VanderPol, an assistant professor of justice and mission at Denver Seminary, in Littleton, Colo.

American Christians owe foreigners as much respect as they do to Americans, said Craig Davis, a pastor for a Quaker church in Yorba Linda, Calif. “To me, [nationality] does not matter,” he told TheDC. Foreigners should be aided, even if they end up voting for politicians who try to legislate against religion, he added. “We need to lean towards people who need help.”

Congress should “step up for doing right,” said David Park, an evangelical pastor from Georgia. Families in his district are being broken up by immigration enforcement, he complained.

However, a June survey by Public Opinion Research reported that 51 percent of evangelicals want to reduce immigration inflow, while only 17 percent want to increase the inflow.

The survey of 1,000 people also showed that only 11 percent of evangelicals would grant full legal status to illegals.

Seventy-five percent of evangelicals said that American businesses should hire Americans before foreign workers, while only 2 percent strongly disagreed with preferences for Americans, said the survey.

The survey was funded by NumbersUSA, which wants to reduce the current inflow of 1 million legal immigrants per year.

Advocates of the immigration bill also downplayed the political consequences of increased immigration.

The Senate bill “is good for the economy, business, for everybody,” said Tim Volk, a vice president for Emerson Electric Co. But asked whether immigration would aid the GOP’s ballot-box support, he punted, saying “the much bigger issue is what’s good for the economy.”

GOP politicians should be hopeful of getting Latinos’ votes once they become citizens, Mathis said. “If their [policy] arguments are right, they shouldn’t have anything to worry about,” he told TheDC. But if Republicans “keep insulting them,” Latinos will walk away, he said.

Latinos share pro-life views with the GOP, and tend to support small-government policies, Stafford said. “I don’t think their minds are necessarily made up.”

In 2012, Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote, leaving 23 percent to Gov. Mitt Romney. Recent immigrants voted even more heavily for Obama, while the middle-class children and grandchildren of Latino immigrants were more centrist.

Republicans can win Latino votes on bread and butter issues, said Allen Gutierrez, the executive director of The Latino Coalition.

Latinos care about immigration, but they care more about the economy, education and health care, said Gutierrez, whose coalition consists of Latino business owners. “The Republican Party needs to be engaged,” he said.

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