Austin immigration meeting to give voice to moderate conservatives

Austin immigration meeting to give voice to moderate conservatives

By Juan Castillo

American-Statesman Staff

Conservatives are getting bad information from the wrong sources on immigration reform, according to the conservative organizer of a meeting Wednesday in Austin of faith, business and law enforcement leaders who support reforms.

“In conservative circles, there’s a lot of half-truths, lies and fiction that need to be discussed,” said Brad Bailey, a Houston restaurateur who blames what he called extremist groups for hijacking the immigration debate.

Bailey is a co-founder of Texas Immigration Solution, a nonprofit conservative group formed in 2012 that is joining with the Texas Association of Business and National Immigration Forum to host Wednesday’s Texas Summit on immigration reform at First Baptist Church of Austin, 901 Trinity St. Groups represented at the conference will urge Texas’ congressional delegation to support broad immigration reform, Bailey said.

While some conservative Republicans have more recently taken positions supporting reform legislation, others in the party have long opposed it along with attempts to offer immigrants in the country illegally a chance to apply for citizenship.

Bailey said Wednesday’s gathering is needed to allow moderate conservative voices to be heard and seek solutions. Participants will include representatives of groups from across the state who see needs for reform from different perspectives, he said.

“It really kind of encompasses Bibles, badges and business owners,” Bailey said.

The lineup of speakers includes Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist and president of Americans for Tax Reform. According to a published report, Norquist told a Topeka, Kan., audience last month that talk show hosts and politicians have exploited the immigration issue for personal gain.

Other scheduled speakers include representatives from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Texas Employers for Immigration Reform and the Texas Border Coalition. Organizers expect about 150 people to attend, including some state legislators. The meeting is open to the public, but registration is required.

Not all the groups expected to attend support a pathway allowing unauthorized immigrants to apply for citizenship, Bailey said. The provision, the main sticking point in previous attempts at immigration reform, is contained in the proposals outlined by President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of senators.

Suzii Paynter, director of the Christian Life Commission of the conservative Baptist General Convention of Texas, which includes about 5,500 congregations across Texas, said the convention supports a pathway to citizenship with conditions.

“It all depends on how that’s structured,” said Paynter, who is expected to speak at the conference. “There’s very much room for a path to citizenship, especially a path that acknowledges illegal entry and (includes) a commitment toward citizenship education and complying with laws and paying taxes.”

With calls for immigration reform gaining momentum, Christian conservatives who opposed reforms or were silent during the last major push in 2006 have joined the debate this time.

Paynter said the Baptist convention is not a political organization, but has weighed in on immigration since 2003 when it passed a resolution supporting comprehensive reform. Its Hispanic Baptist Convención component, which represents more than 1,000 Spanish-speaking congregations, approved a similar document, she said.

“We are one of those more conservative groups that have had a reasonable approach to immigration. We’re just happy that the rest of the groups are catching up to us,” Paynter said.

Bailey singled out for criticism groups like NumbersUSA, which he said are swaying Republicans though they do not have conservative credentials and oppose population increases they view as damaging to the environment.

NumbersUSA director Roy Beck said the Virginia-based group pushes for less immigration and is not an ideological organization.

“No Republicans are doing something because NumbersUSA is saying they should do it. They’re taking the position because of the facts,” Beck said.

Legalizing the country’s estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants would add trillions to the federal debt because it would connect many of them to social welfare programs, Beck said.

“This is going to be very expensive and require an expansion of government. These are all things the Republicans say they’re against,” Beck said.

Bailey said opposition to reform remains strong among some conservatives, “and there’s a lot of work to do on our side of the aisle.” But, he added, “I think we’re closer to agreement than people think.”