Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist advocates comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the country.
At an immigration summit in Indiana, Norquist called immigration "the most important thing to focus on if you're concerned with the future of the country, both as an economic power and as the serious a leader of the free world," and he suggested that illegal immigrants now living in the country should be allowed to stay if they pay a fine.
Norquist made an economic case for immigration reform, arguing that the nation would benefit from additional high-skilled and lower-skilled immigrant workers.
"Not only is it good policy to have dramatically more immigrants in the U.S. than we do today and a path [to citizenship] for those who are here; it's also good politics," he declared, in front of the audience of business, religious, and law-enforcement leaders.
He told the crowd that to get elected officials to take up the issue, grassroots organizers and business leaders need to convince those in office that a pro-immigration position is politically safe.
Immigration reform has long been seen as an issue that appeals to the Republican base, particularly blue-collar workers who bristle at job competition. And it is an issue that incites strong responses within certain quarters.
Norquist said it is a misconception that the excitement heard on talk radio shows makes immigration a powerful political issue. Many voters may feel strongly about immigration, he said. But many vote on other issues such as the economy and the Second Amendment.
"Some [issues] move votes. Some move tongues," he said.
Norquist said the Republican party leaders will have to deal with immigration before they will be able to reach out to Hispanic voters on other issues. "You can't get to other issues if you've got that elephant in the room," he said, calling the assertion that Republicans could attract Hispanic voters to their party through outreach on issues such as abortion or the economy a "fantasy."
Despite his appearance at the summit, Norquist said that an immigration pledge is not coming anytime soon, adding, "We don't want to dilute the trademark."
The summit in Indianapolis on Friday was organized by the National Immigration Forum.