Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, May 14, 2014
One of the original organizers of the tea party movement said Wednesday that the time has come for conservatives to agree to tackle the immigration issue, adding fuel to the push for Republicans to agree to a bill this year.
Sal Russo, who co-founded the Tea Party Express in 2009 and remains the group’s chief strategist, said he didn’t want to dictate the outlines of a deal and didn’t embrace a specific type of legalization, but said it’s time for conservatives to gain a voice in the debate.
“Today, a lot of conservatives, when they hear immigration reform, what they really hear is amnesty. And that vocabulary needs to change. It’s in our interest to change the broken immigration system,” he told reporters in a call arranged by other conservative advocates who back legalizing illegal immigrants.
“A number of Republicans are realizing that blocking immigration reform is not a good idea,” he said at a gathering with law enforcement groups that also want Congress to pass a legalization bill.
Immigrant rights advocates say Republicans are increasingly isolated on the issue. They point to business groups, religious organizations and some social conservative advocacy groups that are demanding action.
Mr. Russo’s push adds at least some segment of the tea party movement to that group.
Mr. Russo said the immigration issue won’t rate high in tea party endorsements. He said he expects groups to focus instead on core economic issues.
The Partnership for a New American Economy, which helped organize Mr. Russo’s announcement, said polling data showed that a majority of voters who sympathize with the tea party would be open to granting legal status to illegal immigrants, with strict conditions attached.
Still, the poll found those tea party voters place immigration last on a list of six issues that are critical to their votes for Congress this year. Government spending and debt remained at the top.
[Editor’s Note: In an op-ed for Roll Call, Mr. Russo announced his support for amnesty.]