If you’re looking for opponents of a broad immigration rewrite at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, you’ll have to do some sleuthing.
Foes who decry efforts to legalize the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants as “amnesty,” for so long the Republican Party’s defining voices on the issue, were banished from the agenda of the three-day gathering of activists. Even an unofficial panel featuring one of their most prominent thinkers failed to make it onto the glossy printed schedule distributed to attendees.
While it is listed on an online schedule of events for the Oxon Hill, Maryland, gathering, a panel entitled “Hot Issues: Electing Integrity, Immigration, and the Rule of Law,” featuring Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies — which rails against “amnesty” and calls for reducing both legal and illegal immigration — is nowhere to be found in the official brochure.
“Convenient, isn’t it?” Krikorian remarked in an e-mail.
Accidental or otherwise, the omission underscores the degree to which CPAC, where Republican activists are grappling this week with how to remake their party and retool their message after 2012 losses, is spotlighting a new stance on immigration. The group’s official panel on immigration yesterday featured five Republicans who back a path to legal status for undocumented workers, and no opponents — at least not on stage.
“If we are going to stop the tide of secular socialism, we need more allies,” declared Republican pollster Whit Ayres, adding that “a group of incredibly family-oriented, hardworking, church-going, entrepreneurial, spiritual people might be a good place to look for some more allies.”
“Legally!” came a voice from the audience.
In an interview, Krikorian said he doesn’t know whether his panel was omitted from the program because of “incompetence or conspiracy.” Yet he’s pretty sure CPAC’s organizers, including Chairman Al Cardenas and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, are using the event to press an “open borders” agenda.
“The elites are in favor of amnesty and unlimited immigration, and the rank-and-file are not,” Krikorian said. The lack of anti-immigration voices at CPAC “doesn’t tell us anything about conservative voters, but it does tell us about `Conservatives, Incorporated.’ ”
In an interview before the conference, Cardenas, a Miamian whose family immigrated from Cuba when he was a child, said he supports a path to legal residency for the undocumented. That’s what’s most likely to win support in the Republican-run House, he said, while acknowledging the Senate’s Democrats will want to see a path to full citizenship.
Still, not all speakers at the gathering hewed to the pro-immigration reform message. Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who is moderating today’s hard-to-find panel, closed out yesterday’s afternoon session with a brief speech in which he said: “The massive, instant amnesty being pushed by Obama and some Republicans is unworkable, unjust, undermines the rule of law, and will harm the public safety.”
It was met with a smattering of applause, but by that time of the afternoon, most conference-goers had left the main hall, heading to their happy hours and dinners.