NC advocates try to jump-start immigration reform

With President Barack Obama poised to reshape immigration laws through executive action, two N.C. lawmakers are joining an effort to urge congressional Republicans to pass their own immigration reform.

The lawmakers, including Republican Reps. Charles Jeter of Huntersville and Nathan Ramsey of Buncombe County, plan to appeal for congressional action at a news conference in Hickory Wednesday afternoon.

“Doing nothing is not the solution,” Jeter said. “I don’t know what the right answer is, but I do believe we can get to a right answer if we continue to talk to each other. … I don’t think sitting in a corner throwing stones is accomplishing a whole lot.”

Wednesday’s event is part of a nationwide push sponsored by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a a bipartisan group advocating changes. Other events are planned in South Carolina and around the country.

A report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center showed that only seven states have more unauthorized immigrants than North Carolina, which had 350,000 in 2012, or about 3.6 percent of the population.

That number is expected to grow, with significant impacts on not only the economy but politics.

More than 25 million new Hispanic and Asian voters could join the U.S. electorate by 2020, according to a study released last month by the Partnership. That includes as many as 255,000 in North Carolina – a state Obama lost by 92,000 votes in 2012.

The GOP lawmakers and their allies hope to persuade fellow Republicans that it’s in their political interest to move on immigration.

“Our message to Republicans is, ‘You can’t ignore this. You’ve got to pay attention to the Latino vote. If you don’t it could be problematic in ‘16,’ ” said Chris Sinclair, a Republican strategist from Raleigh and an organizer of Wednesday’s event.

Bipartisan push

The Partnership co-chairs include some of the country’s top business leaders such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a liberal, and conservative publisher Rupert Murdoch.

Its package of proposals includes strengthening border security, making it easier for immigrants to work and study in the United States and creating “a path to legal status” for undocumented immigrants currently in the country.

Politico reported this week that congressional Republicans are considering passing a measure on border security and changing the visa policy for high-skilled workers‚ areas with broad support in the party.

Obama has threatened to take executive action. He’s reportedly reviewing plans to allow up to 5 million undocumented immigrants to temporarily stay in the U.S.

Critics say whatever it’s called, that’s something Americans don’t want.

“Immigration reform is code for ‘legal status for illegal immigrants,’ it’s code for amnesty,” said William Gheen, president of the Raleigh-based Americans for Legal Immigration. “Obama put his push for immigration reform on the ballot and the public said ‘No’ in historic fashion.”

Political impact

But advocates say something has to be done.

“Everybody on both sides of the political spectrum agrees our system is broken,” Ramsey said.

He said reform is important for businesses to recruit qualified workers but also for Republicans.

A Pew analysis of exit polls showed Democrats won 62 percent of Latino votes this month, compared to 36 percent for Republicans. In 2012, Democrats won 60 percent of Hispanic votes.

“If we don’t do something on immigration, politically we may be able to control the Congress, but we will most likely never be successful winning back the White House,” Ramsey said. “There’s a political consequence for Republicans if we don’t act.”

He and Jeter will be joined by Jake Parker, legislative director of the N.C. Farm Bureau. He said his organization has been pushing Congress to take action for years.

“It’s important to our members who have a largely seasonal work force,” Parker said.

Jeter said he is not advocating the Partnership’s agenda, just trying to jump-start a process.

“Do I think that everything this group says is the right path? No,” he said. “But ... in the last five years we’ve had a lot of yelling, a lot of screaming, and nothing getting done.”

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