Nearly a hundred top Republican donors and Bush administration officials sent a letter to the House GOP on Tuesday urging lawmakers to pass a bill that legalizes illegal immigrants, arguing that the current system is already allowing them to stay and so it makes sense to register them and bring them into the system.
The donors, led by former Bush administration Cabinet officials Carlos Gutierrez and Spencer Abraham, also said that immigrants are potential Republican voters who can be won over — if the party can be seen as welcoming to immigrants.
“Doing nothing is de facto amnesty. We need to take control of whom we let in our country and we need to make sure everybody plays by the same rules,” the donors said in their letter.
They aimed their pitch at House Republicans, who are trying to figure out a way forward and find themselves trapped between angry rank-and-file voters who say legalizing illegal immigrants amounts to amnesty, and party elites and donors who say the GOP cannot survive nationally without embracing legalization as part of a strategy to win over Hispanic voters.
The donor letter came the same day that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 400 other businesses and umbrella groups fired off a letter to House leaders of both parties, urging them to pass something — though the business leaders did not specifically call for legalizing illegal immigrants.
Both the business leaders and donors appeared to be sensing the momentum for immigration legislation slipping away, little more than a month after the Senate passed its version on a bipartisan 68-32 vote.
That Senate vote highlighted the divisions within the GOP. While all 54 members of the Democratic caucus voted for the Senate bill, Republicans split, with 14 voting for it and 32 voting against it — including all of the GOP’s top leadership in the chamber.
Among national party operatives, there is strong support for legalization, stretching back to President George W. Bush, who repeatedly tried to get his party to embrace his plans to legalize illegal immigrants.
Mr. Gutierrez, a former secretary of commerce who led Tuesday’s donor letter, was point man on the 2007 effort, which failed in a stunning bipartisan filibuster on the Senate floor.
Also signing Tuesday’s donor letter were Karl Rove, who was Mr. Bush’s political adviser; a number of ambassadors who served Mr. Bush; former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge; former Vice President Dan Quayle; and several former governors.