|By David Sperling, Esq.|
A conference in Washington last week showed that immigration reform has wide support across the political spectrum.
The conference, titled “Forging a New Consensus on Immigrants and America, ” attracted more than 250 religious, business and law-enforcement leaders. I had the honor of attending the Dec. 4 conference as part of a delegation from the American Jewish Committee.
It was fascinating for me to speak with community leaders who are not normally associated with immigration reform. These leaders were for the most part moderate or conservative Republicans, most of whom supported Gov. Mitt Romney’s failed campaign for president.
The conference was planned far before the elections, in which Republicans finally realized that they would never recapture the White House without support of Hispanics, the largest and fast-growing minority in the United States. Many analysts attributed Romney’s loss to anti-immigrant rhetoric suggesting that the undocumented “self-deport.”
But the leaders in this conference were not political professionals, rather members of the faith-based and business community who believe in immigration reform not only as a moral cause but also good for the economy. The speakers included Grover Nordquist, the GOP anti-tax crusader, AOL founder Steven Case and Mark Shurtleff, the Republican attorney general of Utah.
“We have to reconsider who the Republican base is and how to define the soul of the Republican Party,” said Shurtleff, who learned Spanish as a Mormon missionary in Peru in his youth. “ Moderates within the party need to come back to this discussion and reject the extreme right-right partisan ranting that does not represent the majority of Republicans.”
During the conference, I was seated next to Norman Wilson, a professor in Indiana who was a missionary in Latin America for 15 years. (This 6-foot-4, reed-thin Caucasian told me he was constantly being recruited for local basketball teams while working in Peru.) Wilson told me that Evangelicals support immigration reform as a “moral cause” – treating every individual as a child of God, irrespective of their legal status.
At the same table was a older Republican from Alabama, hardly the stereotypical immigration advocate. He told me that the agricultural industry in Alabama would collapse without Hispanic workers. (It is estimated that up to 80 percent of agricultural workers in the United States are undocumented.)
One of the afternoon speakers was Jeb Bush, Jr., the nephew of former President George W. Bush, whose mother is Mexican-American. Later on Tuesday, the former president broke his silence in calling for a “spirit of benevolence” in the upcoming immigration debate.
I was impressed by the passionate spirit of this diverse group of Americans who whole-heartedly support immigration reform. Neither Democrats nor Republicans should claim immigration reform as a partisan issue. The chief beneficiaries of common-sense immigration reform are the American people.
David Sperling is an immigration lawyer with offices in Central Islip, Huntington Station and Hempstead.