Say What? Tea Party Leaders Come Out for Immigration Reform

Last year, we looked at growing support for immigration reform among Republicans as their party realized they desperately need to court the Latino vote. Yesterday came the most attention-getting news yet. None other than Sal Russo, co-founder of the Tea Party Express, as well as arch-conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, articulated their support for both a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and improved border security. And they called for the Republican leadership in Congress to act before the August recess.

“Conservatives need to seize on immigration reform as an opportunity for growth, to reaffirm who we are and what makes our country great,” wrote Russo in an op-ed for the D.C. publication Roll Call. The Tea Party leader, who also participated in a press conference call hosted by Norquist yesterday, went on to describe how both the tech and farming industries are hurt by a broken immigration system.

It’s an argument echoed by Washington’s own Nansen Malin, a veteran Tea Party activist and blogger who has managed to amass more than 600,000 Twitter followers from the remote locale of Longview.

“Simply stated, immigration reform is about economic growth,” Malin wrote in her own op-ed for a local conservative blog called NW Daily Marker. She went on:

In Washington state alone, if undocumented immigrants followed a path to legal citizenship it would generate more than 12,700 jobs and more than $1.1 billion for the state, according to Regional Economic Models, Inc. Vital industries are facing substantial labor shortages, which could be filled by immigrant workers and ultimately drive job creation across the state.

It makes sense that a former business owner like Malin, who operated a Seattle-based gift and garden manufacturing company before moving out to Longview, would appreciate the business case for immigration. It’s the same reason that the far-from-liberal Washington Growers League has long supported immigration reform.

Her views, though, are not commonly associated with conservative groups like the Tea Party—a misperception, she insists on the phone from Longview. “The people I know and hang out with, they all think like me.”

What’s more, she says that Republican voters are defying the stereotype of conservatives as anti-immigration reform. She points to this week’s Republian primary victories of Senate candidate Ben Sasse in Nebraska and U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in North Carolina. Both support immigration reform and came under attack for their views. Both won anyway.

“I don’t care what party you in, it’s the right thing to do,” Malin asserts.

Some on the left seem to be trying to figure out what to make of their new-found allies on this issue. Otts Bolisay, spokesperson for the immigrant advocacy group OneAmerica, wonders whether the Tea Party is looking for political advantage as the mid-term elections approach. But whatever the reason, he says, “we’re happy.”

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