Behind the scenes, business leaders press for immigration overhaul

Herald Washington BureauOctober 8, 2013 

WASHINGTON -- While the immigration debate has been put on the back burner in Washington, national and local business heavyweights have been working behind the scenes -- and using their financial might -- to press House Republicans to bring legislation overhauling the immigration system to a vote.

The well-organized groups are led by some of the biggest names in business, such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. They've set their sights on GOP lawmakers from Southern states such as North Carolina, Texas and Florida, and have recruited local business leaders and chambers of commerce to deliver a unified message that immigration legislation is crucial to the success of local economies.

They see a potential window of opportunity opening at the end of the month to reignite talks. They've been quietly laying the groundwork for months, holding backroom meetings and round table discussions with interest groups, and sending lobbyists to lawmakers' offices armed with the latest studies showing the potential impacts on farmers and manufacturing if an immigration overhaul stalls.

The high-wattage names involved go beyond Bloomberg and Zuckerberg. Partnership for a New American Economy, led by Bloomberg, also includes Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, Rupert Murdoch of News Corp., and Bill Marriott of Marriott hotels. Zuckerberg's group, FWD.us., includes Napster co-founder Sean Parker and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.

Zuckerberg told members of Congress recently that he plans to spend $50 million on advertisements supporting members of Congress who back an immigration overhaul and pressuring others who may be on the fence.

It's part of a campaign blitz by supporters of a comprehensive immigration legislation launching this month that will include rallies and television spots and that will culminate with an Oct. 28 business summit in Washington, D.C., that is expected to attract hundreds of business leaders from around the country.

About 40 House Republicans have been identified as influential voices of the House's conservative wing who can help convince the leadership to bring immigration legislation to a vote.

They are largely part of an increasingly influential freshman and sophomore class of House Republicans that has pushed toward more conservative positions. But they're also seen as movable on immigration because they represent districts with large technology, agriculture and/or manufacturing sectors -- industries solidly behind an overhaul of the system.

Those representatives include North Carolina Reps. Renee Ellmers, Richard Hudson and George Holding, Florida Rep. Steve Southerland and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House's immigration subcommittee.

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