Grover Norquist wants voters to know that Republicans are not the anti-immigrant party, and he thinks Texas can lead the conversation on immigration reform.
The Americans for Tax Reform president spoke to the Texas Immigration Summit held at the First Baptist Church in Austin on Wednesday, a gathering of leaders under the banner of “Bible, badges and business,” to discuss immigration reform. Texas Immigration Solution, a nonprofit interest group, hosted the discussion.
Norquist said the conversation has until recently been dictated by a few loud “bullfrogs” who are hostile to immigration, which he says has created “a completely bizarre view of where the modern conservative movement is” on the issue. “We didn’t make as much noise or weren’t as focused on this issue as they are becoming now," he said, "so that’s how we get this idea that the party that nominates [Ronald] Reagan and [John] McCain was somehow hostile to immigration.”
Norquist also said he thinks Texas has the power to change the national conversation around immigration. “If they say, 'Guys in Texas think this is a good idea,' all of a sudden, people listen,” he said.
In the GOP response to Tuesday night's State of the Union, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called for a “responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally." Rep. Paul Ryan, the former Republican vice presidential candidate, echoed this position in an interview with CNN on Tuesday, agreeing that President Obama’s stance on immigration was “productive,” and signaling a move toward compromise.
Norquist did not directly cite the State of the Union on Wednesday, but called for efforts “to unite the center right” on immigration.
Following Norquist’s address, a panel of leaders from the religious, law enforcement and business communities spoke about their own perspectives on immigration in Texas.
“At the heart of this, there are people,” said Dr. David Fleming, senior pastor at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston. “This is a sacred issue because God has an opinion on what we should do. There’s a moral imperative to solve this.”
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