MIAMI — A new effort funded by the powerful Koch network wants to reframe discussions about immigration by calling for bipartisan consensus on the issue amid Trump-era divisions.
The initiative "Common Ground" launched an outdoor installation Thursday in a Miami parking lot to share positive personal stories of immigrants who are young entrepreneurs, war heroes and farmers. Visitors are encouraged to open several doors to watch short clips on large vertical screens that hang by the doorway.
The three groups behind the project are Stand Together, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and The LIBRE Institute, which are all funded by conservative industrialist Charles Koch. The exhibit opened Thursday for four days in Miami and will be shown at a political convention in Nashville before going to five more cities.
The groups say the exhibit is merely educational and not aimed at swaying viewers to the Republican Party despite the network's history of bankrolling the GOP. Its groups have shown willingness to work with Democrats and investing in local nonprofit groups.
Wadi Gaitan, spokesman for the Latino-focused group LIBRE, said the group sent mailers thanking both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who were in support of legislation that would have beefed up border security and provided young immigrants who were brought into the country or are living in the U.S. illegally a path to legal status. The measures did not move through Congress due to GOP divisions and Democrats' opposition to funding a border wall.
"We want people to know that, although many times the narrative is one of divisiveness, in reality what they believe, and what Americans across the country believe, is that there is a place where they can unite on a very tough issue like immigration," Gaitan said.
The exhibit in Miami's artsy neighborhood of Wynwood centers around characters showing ideals that Charles Koch and his recently deceased brother David have said are essential to their philanthropic work, such as patriotism and entrepreneurship. Charles Koch has said he supports opening America's borders wide to immigration while focusing on admitting people who meet those ideals.
One of the videos features three immigrants brought into the country from Mexico as children. They are now a mental health counselor, a youth pastor and a small business owner. Another shares the experience of former teacher Melinda Hollandsworth, who started a nonprofit in Atlanta that helps children in immigrant families graduate from high school and go to college. In the video, Hollandsworth says that when she was in the hospital for eight weeks before giving birth to her son, two immigrant women she had met through her nonprofit showed up to visit.
"What if my being afraid had prevented me from knowing and loving these people who are part of our community?" Hollandsworth says in the video as a tear rolls down her cheek.
Koch has been outspoken against Trump on immigration and announced he'll withhold support for a 2020 reelection bid by Trump, who continues to enact measures to overhaul the asylum system and curb migration.
At the Global Philanthropy Forum in April, Koch said there's "still hope for immigration reform."
"I would let everybody in who comes here to contribute and no one who wants to come here to do harm," he said at the time. "We have to have an open society: open to ideas, people, goods and services, to learn from each other and have us all benefit."