But pushback from other tea party elements was swift, and resistance remains.
In Texas, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson joined business and faith leaders in calling for House Republicans to set aside ideological objections, and embrace an overhaul of immigration policy.
“We have some people who are just catatonic in their opposition,” he said. “I guess you could call them nativist. They’re not going to get it and no matter how much you talk to them they keep coming back to some bumper sticker cliché – `well, I’m against amnesty.’ My response is well, I am too.”
The biggest impediment to action in the U.S. House, in his view, “is just frankly having the guts to do what they know should be done.”
What exactly that is remains a subject of heated debate. President Barack Obama has renewed a push for immigration reform. But he’s remained adamant this week that any overhaul must include an eventual path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally.
That’s a nonstarter for many conservatives.
Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business and longtime advocate of updating the nation’s immigration’s policies, reiterated complaints about shortages of high skilled workers, and labor for the agriculture, hospitality and construction industries.
“Home construction is booming. A year ago it took 4 months to build a house in Dallas. Now it takes 6 months , because there are not enough sheet-rockers, framers etc.,” Hammond said.
The fresh Texas-based push was coordinated with a similar effort at the national level led by, among others, anti-tax activists Grover Norquist.
One national tea party leader made waves Wednesday by calling for an immigration overhaul that includes legal status.
Sal Russo, a co-founder of Tea Party Express, explained his views in an essay in Roll Call, a newspaper aimed at a capital audience, and on a call with reporters soon after the Patterson-Hammond call.
“There are too many bad ideas on immigration reform that too many conservatives have become satisfied with just saying no,” Russo said. “But I think we can do better than that by advancing our own conservative ideas for immigration reform.”
Norquist, one of the most high-profile and influential conservatives to back the bipartisan immigration bill the Senate approved last year — over the objections of Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz – joined Russo Wednesday in demanding action from the GOP-led House, where the issue has stalled.
Norquist cited findings from a survey issued by an alliance of pro-immigration conservatives, showing that tea party-minded voters strongly favor action this year on immigration reform. The survey also found that three-fourths of such voters support legal status or even eventual citizenship for people in the country illegally, Norquist noted –glossing over a finding that one-in-four support deportation, instead.
Steve Case, a former AOL chairman, echoed a warning Obama issued a day earlier: Unless the House acts by August, immigration reform likely will go nowhere for another two or three years.
Speaker John Boehner has ridiculed some House Republicans for blocking progress, though he also has blamed inaction in the House on mistrust of Obama over enforcement of immigration laws.
Al Cardenas, president of the American Conservative Union, predicted the House will end up moving ahead soon on immigration reform, but without offering any path to citizenship.
The push from the right was by no means unanimous.
Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, issued a terse statement Wednesday afternoon making clear that she isn’t on board with Russo, Norquist and their allies.
“We must first fully secure our borders. Immigration reform cannot happen without this necessary first step,” she said, adding, “There is already a legal path to citizenship for those wishing to come to the United States. Anyone who decides to get off that path and enter the United States illegally should not be given any sort of amnesty.”
In Texas, Patterson echoed that, even as he called for action.
“At some point in the future when tempers subside a little bit, we can talk about a path to citizenship,” he said. For now, he said, “let’s get something done.”