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Pro-Immigration Conservatives to Lobby Republicans

For years, pro-immigration conservative activists have tried with little success to gain an audience with top Republicans in Washington.

But since last month’s election, with the GOP’s dismal performance among Hispanics, that has started to change. Today, more than 250 activists plan to come to Washington for a debut of sorts, hosting a news conference and strategy session before heading to Capitol Hill for meetings with key lawmakers.

Group leaders say they hope to bring a fresh, outsiders’ perspective to the debate, with testimonials from rural sheriffs, local preachers, even the director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association. Rather than dwelling on the politics of the issue, these conservative leaders plan to cast the issue based on how they see it in their communities – in moral and economic terms.

“There’s a radical, loud element out there that just doesn’t seem to get it, that will never get it,” s aid Mark Curran, the Republican sheriff of Lake County, Ill., and a participant in this week’s activities. “They shouldn’t be given any real deference anymore.”

Curran, a devout Catholic, once held hard-line, anti-illegal immigration views, but changed his mind in 2010 during conversations with clergy and business leaders. He thinks some conservative House members could undergo a similar conversion.

“The political realities and the realities of my faith started to collide, and I couldn’t reconcile it anymore,” he said.

The effort comes at a time of soul-searching among senior Republicans, who have concluded that President Obama’s dominance among Hispanic voters and other groups, such as Asian-Americans, resulted at least in part from years of hard-line opposition by conservative Republicans to more liberalized immigration laws. Many believe that 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney alienated Hispanic voters when he tilted to the right during his primary campaign, supporting a policy of “self-deportation.”

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