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Conservative Leaders Call an Audible on Immigration at Midwest Summit

October 18, 2012

by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons

A pastor, a rabbi, a sheriff, a dairy farmer and Grover Norquist walk into the Indianapolis Colts’ stadium.

No joke: The Midwest Summit: Forging a New Consensus on Immigration and America, held Oct. 12, brought together more than 80 faith, business and law enforcement leaders from ten states.

What stood out? A true consensus across state, political and sector lines calling for common-sense immigration solutions. The sense of urgency in the room was palpable. These leaders traveled from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin and within Indiana not just to talk — they gathered because the failings of existing immigration policy necessitate federal action now.

From different angles, speakers consistently underscored the value of immigrants to the Midwest and the need for Congress to enact better immigration laws. The same message shone through the lenses of politics, economics, morality and public safety.

The Political and Economic Case

Few people rival Grover Norquist in conservative credibility. The message of his keynote speech in Indianapolis was clear: Conservatives can and should support immigrants and immigration reform.

“It’s not only good policy to have more immigrants in the United States — dramatically more immigrants than we do today, to having a path forward for those people who are here,” he said. “It’s not only a good idea, but it’s good politics.”

He even choked up a little. Talking about how the GOP looked down on Catholics for much of recent history, Norquist lamented that the GOP seemingly is doing the same with immigrants now.

Earlier, the day kicked off with panels on “Business and Immigration” and “Economic and Workforce Development.” Kicking things off, Richard Longworth, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, highlighted the “new ideas, new blood, new money that immigrants bring” that will help turn around the struggling Midwest economy.

He called on the audience and all Midwesterners to begin “working and talking together to see how can get a piece of the industries of the future,” and for towns and counties to reach across regional lines.
“In a globalizing world, we have no choice,” he declared.

Business leaders reported that immigrants are crucial to the economy across the region.

“There is a huge gap in our workforce, and it’s not even an immigrant issue. It’s an American issue,” said Angela Smith Jones, director of public policy at the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

“The cows on our farm have to milked,” Wisconsin dairy farmer John Rosenow added. “They have to be milked today, they have to be milked tomorrow. They can’t wait until you [in Congress] figure out the right decision … It has to be done now, and I have to have employees.”

A second group of business leaders highlighted that their companies benefit when their immigrant employees integrate into Midwestern society. Moderator Josh Hoyt of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights stressed the need to “work to build, in concrete way, a sense of connectedness” for new immigrant communities.

“This population is here and they’re moving us forward and letting us be globally competitive,” added Shannon Kiely Heider, state government relations director at Cummins Inc. in Columbus, Ind.

Steve Tobocman, Director of the Global Detroit economic revitalization effort, gave a rousing call to action: “If we’re going to be the most prosperous country in the 21st century, we need to take advantage of our immigrants and their integration.”

Faith and Law Enforcement Leaders Speak Out

A broad range of faith leaders made the case that theology, constituency and history all point to welcoming immigrants.

Rabbi Brett Krichiver of Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation discussed the “biblical call to welcome the stranger” that runs through Judaism and Christianity.

Evangelical leaders came out in force for the panel, with Cedarville University Vice President for Student Life Carl Ruby joining National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson and Christian Community Development Association CEO Noel Castellanos.

Ruby spoke about the silence of evangelicals during the civil rights movement. “I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history on reform; immigration is the civil rights issue of this day,” he said.

”Immigrants are the lifeblood of the Catholic Church,” and most growth in American Christianity can be attributed to immigrants, added Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

Meanwhile, local and state law enforcement officials spoke of the importance of good relations with immigrant communities as they fulfill their duty to keep their communities safe.

“These punitive, run–them-out laws are actually detrimental to public safety,” said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who moderated a panel that included Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, Lake County, Ill., Sheriff Mark C. Curran Jr. and Garden City, Kan., Police Chief James Hawkins.

“You have to establish a positive relationship with your community or you will not be able to solve your community’s issues,” Hawkins said. “To undo that now, after thirty years, would be disastrous.”

A Call to Action

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, concluded the summit by pointing to the powerful voices in the room and the opportunity for participants to send a message to political leaders in Washington.

“We’ve got to fix [immigration]; 2013 is the chance for that,” Noorani said.

Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is the Assistant for Constituencies at the National Immigration Forum.

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