More than 100 Republican donors — many of them prominent names in their party’s establishment — sent a letter to Republican members of Congress on Tuesday urging them to support an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.
The letter, which calls for “legal status” for the 11 million immigrants here illegally, begins with a simple appeal: “We write to urge you to take action to fix our broken immigration system.”
The effort was organized by Carlos Gutierrez, who was secretary of commerce under President George W. Bush and was a founder of a “super PAC,” Republicans for Immigration Reform. The letter is the beginning of a campaign to lobby Republican lawmakers in favor of a broad immigration bill as they return to their districts for the August break.
“What tends to happen during the month of August is that members go home and they go to town hall meetings and they check up on their offices in terms of phone calls and letters, and that’s where they get bombarded,” Mr. Gutierrez said in a phone interview. “So Republicans who are for immigration reform — and I believe there are many — we need to make our voice known in August.”
A cross-section of Republican donors and fund-raisers signed the letter. They include Karl Rove, a deputy chief of staff in Mr. Bush’s White House; former Vice President Dan Quayle; Tom Stemberg, a founder of Staples; and Frank VanderSloot, the founder of Melaleuca Inc.
An overhaul of the immigration laws passed the Senate in June, but members of the Republican majority in the House are uneasy about any bill that would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here — as the Senate plan does — and some Republicans have balked at doing much beyond strengthening security at the border. The letter argues that a refusal to change the immigration system amounts to “de facto amnesty,” and the signers outline three steps that they say are integral to any overhaul.
“To fix our immigration system we need meaningful reforms that will (1) secure our borders, (2) provide a legal way for U.S.-based companies to hire the workers they need while making it impossible to hire workers here illegally, and (3) take control of our undocumented immigration problem by providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who pay penalties and back taxes, pass criminal background checks, and go to the back of the line,” the letter says.
Mr. VanderSloot, in a phone interview, said he believed that some of the Republican holdouts might support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants as long as no special treatment is involved. “I think most Republicans are on board with a path, but they don’t want them to go the front of the line,” Mr. VanderSloot said. “There should not be a reward for breaking the law. They’re O.K. with them having a path to citizenship, but not having an advantage over those who have been waiting in line for a long time legally.”
The letter also says that support of an immigration overhaul is both smart policy and smart politics, and argues that Republicans and immigrants should be natural allies. “Immigrants are often entrepreneurial, family-minded and guided by faith,” the letter says. “These are Republican values. Immigrants play key roles at every level of the American economy. From high-skill workers to seasonal laborers, from big-city neighborhoods to small-town main streets, immigrants help drive our economic growth. These are Republican issues. Republicans ought to be welcoming immigrants and be seen as doing so.”
During the 2012 presidential campaign — when President Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote — Mitt Romney alienated many Latinos with his comments that he favored a “self-deportation” approach to immigration. Yet many of the Republicans who signed the letter supported or worked for Mr. Romney, including Spencer Zwick, who was his campaign finance director. That even members of Mr. Romney’s campaign are backing the stance for immigration reform that would allow for citizenship for the 11 million undocumented aliens in the U.S. is a strong statement to Congress to pass this law. Mr. Gutierrez said, “This is our way of saying there are some Republican leaders who want to see the problem solved.”