Immigration: All Roads, South Carolina

Photograph by Erik Campos/The State/AP Photo

A law enforcement official talks to unidentified people during a round up in Columbia, South Carolina in this file photo.

Updated at 2:05 PM EDT

South Carolina isn’t a border state, yet its radio and television airwaves will soon be saturated with advertisements by groups leading the charge both for and against a broad immigration overhaul taking shape in Congress.

The reason: The state is home to two Republican lawmakers who are playing central roles in the immigration effort, both of them preparing to face voters in the 2014 elections. Sen. Lindsey Graham is one of a bipartisan group of eight senators drafting immigration legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be living in the United States.

And Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina chairs the House subcommittee that has jurisdiction over immigration legislation in his chamber, where another bipartisan group of lawmakers is working on a plan.

NumbersUSA, a leading opponent of a sweeping immigration rewrite, last month began airing radio spots against Graham throughout South Carolina, backed by a six-figure ad buy — Bloomberg was first to report this.

“Who elected Lindsey Graham to demand millions more immigrant workers when so many South Carolinians are jobless?” the ad asks.

A group of evangelical organizations that are pressing for a measure that legalizes undocumented immigrants announced today that they were launching a five-figure ad buy of their own that seeks to bolster Graham’s position.

“Christ calls us evangelicals to compassion and justice, so please join a growing movement of Christians asking our political leaders for immigration solutions rooted in Bible values,” Rev. Jim Goodroe, who hails from Gowdy’s district, says in the ad.

While neither Graham’s nor Gowdy’s name is mentioned, the group made it clear its object was in large part to insulate Graham from criticism for his role in the immigration effort, and persuade Gowdy that he wouldn’t pay a political price for backing it.

“It’s up to us to convince him that the majority of the members of his district support comprehensive immigration reform, and we believe they do,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Update:

A separate group of Republicans backing a broad immigration overhaul also announced today it was spending $60,000 to begin airing television ads in the state touting the economic benefits of immigration to South Carolina and praising Graham for leading the charge to revamp the system. Republicans for Immigration Reform, a super political action committee formed to back Republicans backing the legislative effort, is teaming with the Partnership for a New American Economy on the effort.

Jeremy Robbins, the partnership’s director, said the group was working to get business leaders to back lawmakers who would have to take tough votes to push through a broad immigration rewrite.

“Lindsey Graham for years has shown incredible courage to lead on this issue, at real potential cost to himself,” Robbins said.

Republicans for Immigration Reform Treasurer Charlie Spies said his group would go so far as to “step into primaries and defend” Republicans if they were being attacked for supporting the effort.

The partnership is co-chaired by New York Mayor City Michael Bloomberg, the majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News.

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