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The focus is narrow but supporting broad immigration overhaul is crucial, he said: “[Business leaders] understand that their particular problem is most likely to be addressed via a comprehensive reform bill, not as separate legislation.”
The tactic won’t go unchallenged. Opponents already are pushing back, questioning the leaders’ motives and revving up their own lobbying efforts.
“The businesses want the labor and the churches want their pews filled,” said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, an Arlington, Va.-based advocacy group that lobbies to reduce immigration levels. “Republicans don’t gain anything by passing amnesty. The bottom line is that the majority of people agree with us.”
But conservative views on immigration are shifting in Congress, at least. Senate Republicans leading the push for reform have taken a more centrist stance in recent months, supporting plans that would tighten border security and toughen enforcement, but also allow a path to legal status for illegal immigrants.
Minnesota is home to at least 85,000 illegal immigrants, according to a 2011 study by the Pew Research Hispanic Center, ranking 26th nationally. That estimate includes only Hispanics. Pinning down the actual number is nearly impossible, said Minnesota state demographer Susan Brower.
Some of the most explosive growth in the state’s immigrant population is happening outside the Twin Cities, in the suburbs and exurbs of Kline’s, Bachmann’s and Paulsen’s districts and the rural towns of Peterson’s region.
Pro-immigration groups forming nationwide aim to support Republicans who fear being targeted on the issue. If past performance is any indication, Minnesota’s lawmakers may prove tough to sway. NumbersUSA, the immigration reduction lobby, grades members of Congress, and it awarded Kline an A+, Bachmann an A and Paulsen an A- based on their statements and votes on immigration policy since 2009. Peterson earned a C.
Since the election, the tone of the discussion on immigration has softened, a reflection of the GOP’s poor performance with Hispanic voters last election, said John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.
“The changing electorate is a motivating factor,” Noorani said.
Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. Twitter: @C_C_Mitchell •