WASHINGTON -- The head of the American Bankers Assn., who is a former GOP governor, made a strong pitch Monday to his fellow Republicans to support the bipartisan Senate immigration reform legislation by invoking party hero Ronald Reagan.
Frank Keating, president of the group since 2011, said in a Times opinion article that Reagan would say “it’s time to open the doors” to immigrants to boost the economy.
Conservatives were wrong to oppose the Senate legislation, supported by President Obama, that would overhaul the system and provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the country without legal status, Keating said.
“Unfortunately, too many conservatives — though they aspire to walk in Reagan’s footsteps — have forgotten that immigration reform is the most Republican of causes,” wrote Keating, a self-described Reagan Republican who served as governor of Oklahoma from 1994-2002.
“We cannot support open borders for trade but not for people,” he said in the article, titled “What Would Reagan Do?”
“We cannot make America stronger and more prosperous by excluding tomorrow’s talent and industry.”
Keating, an influential voice in the financial services industry in Washington, joins the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups in trying to push House Republican leaders to take up the immigration reform legislation that passed the Senate in June.
Many House Republicans oppose the comprehensive Senate bill, which includes a controversial 13-year path to citizenship for qualified immigrants.
Those GOP lawmakers would prefer dealing with the problem in a piecemeal approach by passing bills that increase high-tech visas, revamp farm labor programs and strengthen border security.
Keating said the U.S. needs immigrants of “all skill levels to help build the 21st century economy.”
He said the Senate bill “protects the rule of law by securing the border and ensuring that only law-abiding immigrants receive legal status.”
President Obama would help ease Republican concerns about border security by promising not to delay implementation or issue waivers that would weaken the legislation.
After the partial government shutdown ended last month, Obama renewed his push for immigration reform and said he might consider Republican proposals to overhaul parts of the immigration system.