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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Republican Platform Line Friendly to Immigrants


It was no surprise that the Republicans declared their intention to strictly crack down on illegal immigration in their platform, which was released last week.

But one line was added to the text that went counter to the calls for strict verification and expanded by states: It called for “a legal and reliable source of foreign labor where needed through a new guest worker program.”

And Brad Bailey, a Texas Republican who owns two seafood restaurants in suburbs of Houston, was satisfied to see it there.

Mr. Bailey, 39, is not a delegate at the convention in Tampa, Fla., but he has been roaming the hallways there since last week, striding up to delegates to convince them that the party should be on record supporting new access for employers to legal foreign labor. He is a nonstop advocate for the immigration plank that Texas Republicans wrote into their state platform after contentious meetings in June, which in cludes a temporary foreign worker program.

“We are a border state and we have the same problem as Arizona, but we addressed it totally differently than Arizona,” Mr. Bailey said, referring to polarizing enforcement laws passed in that state.

Mr. Bailey admits he is rowing against his party's tide this year. But he is among a number of Republicans, many of them farmers or small-business owners, who are urging party leaders to recognize that some employers still have a hard time filling low-paying jobs despite high unemployment.

He also wants the party to take the edge off its rhetoric against illegal immigrants. “Jan Brewer and Joe Arpaio are hijacking the issue and damaging the Republican party brand,” Mr. Bailey said, referring to Arizona's governor and the hard-line sheriff of Maricopa County. “We need to stop the hatred language and fix this problem.”

Mr. Bailey said he started his personal campaign to chan ge the party's approach after Latino workers in one of his restaurants - longtime legal employees - asked him last year why he was a Republican. “They don't like Hispanics,” the workers said of the party.

He said Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas who wrote several enforcement amendments that were added to the convention platform, did not understand the needs of employers in labor-intensive businesses.

“I sign the front of the paychecks, he signs the back,” Mr. Bailey said.

In Tampa, Mr. Bailey found a sympathetic hearing from several delegates, including Sue Sharkey, a Colorado state official, who came to the meetings with her own proposal for a guest worker program run entirely by the private sector. Ms. Sharkey said she offered the language that was eventually adopted in the final text of the platform.

The party's candidate, Mitt Romney, has said little recently on immigration, generally avoiding an issue that divides the party a nd has distanced it from Latino voters. Mr. Bailey said he was hoping for leadership on the issue from Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mr. Romney's running mate, who co-sponsored a Democratic proposal in Congress two years ago to give legal status to immigrant farmworkers.