Grover Norquist told the Boise City Club there is a simple reason for conservatives to support a new immigration policy:
Norquist, arguably the most important voice in branding the modern Republican Party around tax cuts, said low taxes and open immigration are at the heart of the American success story. Fixing the system now will make the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the shadows more productive and grow the economy by $2.5 trillion, he said.
"We're not doing it to win votes, we're doing it because it's good economics," Norquist said.
Japan, China and Germany will falter because they have limited immigration and aging populations. The United States is the only nation in the world that has, from its beginning, largely welcomed and integrated immigrants, contributing to its prosperity, Norquist said.
"We're the future," Norquist said. "We're going to dominate the world because we do immigration well."
Conservatives who worry that immigrants are going to add to the welfare burden are projecting their concerns for programs such as Medicare, health care and education onto immigration, he said. Norquist said he tells conservatives that their fears are in the future and that the Republican budget, which was authored by Rep. Paul Ryan and has passed the U.S. House, would solve those problems.
"We're going to get the Ryan budget plan in 2016 or 2020 or the country is going to crash and burn," Norquist said.
Doubters of immigration reform are buying in to the view of 18th century British scholar Thomas Malthus, who predicted overpopulation and disaster.
"The idea that more people makes us poorer is what Malthus said," Norquist said. "Malthus was wrong."
He said racism drove past efforts to limit immigration - aimed at the Chinese in the 1890s and at Catholics and Jews in the 1920s. He stopped short of saying it has contributed to today's politics.
But when conservatives make the argument now that more people cost more money, "that's when you wonder what their real reason is."
Norquist said those who say immigration reform is a rule-of-law issue forget how many people violated the 55 mph speed limit before it was raised. Laws that no one obeys need to be changed, he said.
"We've been having a 55 mph speed limit on immigration in a 75 mph world economy," he said.
He pointed to lifting the speed limit again when he talked about making the borders secure before fixing immigration: "We didn't do enforcement first then," Norquist said.
After his speech, Norquist told reporters that Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador is "one of the most expert guys in Congress" on immigration issues and said he understands the tactical reasons Labrador pulled out of House negotiations over whether the Affordable Care Act would cover immigrants over the next decade.
Norquist said Republicans' family-oriented values and initiatives, including low taxes, will be attractive to many immigrants and their relatives. But lack of immigration reform stands in the way.
"You don't get to have a conversation when you threaten to deport people's relatives," he said.
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