WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama called on the House to pass immigration reform, some Oklahoma business owners and prominent Republicans announced Thursday that they're heading to Capitol Hill next week to press the same message with lawmakers.
In remarks at the White House, the president said the Senate had already passed a bipartisan bill that includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally. It's now up to House Republicans, he said, “to decide whether reform becomes a reality or not.”
The president said he was open to new ideas if House Republicans have them.
“But what we can't do is just sweep the problem under the rug one more time, leave it for somebody else to solve sometime in the future,” the president said.
Business groups and evangelical leaders have been making a major push for immigration reform, and one major group has been active in Oklahoma recently.
The Partnership for a New American Economy, launched by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and media mogul Rupert Murdoch to promote immigration reform, sponsored a poll in Oklahoma last month that showed 80 percent of those surveyed would support the kind of measures contained in the Senate bill.
And the partnership is organizing a visit for some Oklahoma business owners as part of an event sponsored by a number of groups here next week that will bring people from all over the country to talk to House members.
Among those scheduled to attend are owners of Oklahoma restaurants, construction companies and a clothing plant.
Kris Steele, a Republican who served as speaker of the state House of Representatives, and Estela Hernandez, who coordinates outreach for the Oklahoma Republican Party, are also expected to come.
Wes Stucky, president of Development-Management of Ardmore, said in a news release that Oklahoma and the nation need “the labor and talent immigration reform can bring. We can't let this issue be captured by extremists on either side. Our congressmen and women need to know those working on the front line of job creation recognize the need for immigration reform.”
Both of Oklahoma's senators opposed the Senate bill, and none of the five Republicans who represent the state in the U.S. House have spoken in favor of it.
The House has not proposed its own legislation, but GOP leaders have indicated they won't use the Senate bill as a vehicle for immigration reform.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was noncommittal this week when asked whether he would bring the issue to the House floor before year's end.
In his remarks on Thursday, Obama said everything in Washington “tends to be viewed through a political prism and everybody has been looking at the politics of this.
“And I know that there are some folks in this town who are primed to think, ‘Well, if Obama is for it, then I'm against it.' But I'd remind everybody that my Republican predecessor was also for it when he proposed reforms like this almost a decade ago, and I joined with 23 Senate Republicans back then to support that reform. I'd remind you that this reform won more than a dozen Republican votes in the Senate in June.”