Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 12, 2016

Tea Party Express Co-Founder Backs Immigration Overhaul Efforts

immigration reform

A tea party leader has written that “conservatives need to seize on immigration reform” as a push for a bill has ramped up in recent weeks. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The co-founder of and chief strategist for one of the biggest tea party organizations is coming out in support of overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, a bold statement that could energize advocates and alienate conservatives.

Sal Russo of the Tea Party Express broke the news in an op-ed titled “Conservatives Need to Fix the Broken Immigration System,” published by CQ Roll Call early Wednesday morning.

In that piece, the longtime GOP operative and consultant argued that “conservatives should be at the forefront of reform so the law reflects the just interests of the United States, not misty-eyed ideals of some of the liberal do-gooder reformers.”

That means no special pathways to citizenship that allow undocumented immigrants to cut in line, Russo cautioned, but rather some reasonable procedures that require “the 11 million people who are here illegally obey the law, pay taxes and come out of the shadows.

“We have to get them right by the law in exchange for legal status, but not unbridled amnesty,” Russo wrote. “This should include penalties, background checks to root out criminals, and the requirement that they learn English, understand the Constitution and be committed to our basic freedoms.”

Russo did not single out the House Republican Conference for its lack of consensus on whether to move forward with immigration overhaul legislation, nor did he name-check members of GOP leadership on whom the onus lies to move such legislation forward.

But Russo’s support for a comprehensive immigration fix that includes a legal status pathway — plus his suggestion that “conservatives need to seize on immigration reform” in order to “reaffirm who we are and what makes our country great” — is likely to raise eyebrows on all sides of the immigration debate.

Democrats and pro-immigration overhaul advocates may use Russo’s words as proof that the tides are changing on the issue and it’s only a matter of time before Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, is forced to throw his weight behind a legislative fix.

It could even be fodder for someone like Thomas Donahue, the president of the influential and right-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who tried to drive the point home at an event on Monday by proclaiming that the GOP “shouldn’t bother to run a candidate in 2016″ if Republicans can’t do anything affirmative on immigration this year.

Boehner spoke at a luncheon on Monday sponsored by several San Antonio business groups, where he reiterated his belief that most of his colleagues support an immigration overhaul but lack trust in President Barack Obama’s willingness to enforce the law.

At the same time, Russo’s statement could taint the ideological purity of the Tea Party Express, which has already struggled to maintain a hardline reputation and wield influence in electoral politics. Russo has been criticized for his deep ties to the Republican Party establishment while many tea party stalwarts feel defined by their status on the fringe of the mainstream.

It could also raise questions about the criteria for political endorsements, or prompt Tea Party Express-endorsed candidates to distance themselves from the group. Russo’s organization is currently throwing support behind 18 GOP candidates for the House and Senate in 2014, and many of them are staunch opponents to any immigration overhaul effort in either chamber this year.

Tea Party Express-backed incumbent Jeff Sessions of Alabama is one of the loudest anti-amnesty voices in the Senate. Chris McDaniel, another endorsee who wants to unseat Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., in the upcoming GOP primary, has taken a pledge with the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform to oppose any legislation that would provide work authorization for undocumented immigrants or increase the number of legal immigrants and guest workers in the United States.

House GOP incumbents seeking re-election and backed by the Tea Party Express — Lee Terry of Nebraska, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan — have all articulated variations of support for securing the borders and curbing illegal immigration before moving on to fix other areas of the country’s immigration system, while stopping short of publicly throwing cold water on GOP leadership’s immigration principles released back in January.

A source familiar with the rationale behind Russo’s decision to make public his support for an overhaul told CQ Roll Call that Russo was urged to speak out by the Partnership for a New American Economy.

The coalition of “500 Republican, Democratic and independent mayors and business leaders united in making the economic case for streamlining, modernizing, and rationalizing our immigration system” will compliment the rollout of Russo’s op-ed with a Wednesday afternoon conference call, the first in a monthly series of such calls focused on “the need to fix the broken immigration system.”

The calls will be moderated by Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, and Russo will be among the first slate of guests.


Related stories:

Evangelicals Target House Republicans on Immigration Overhaul

Boehner Walks Back Immigration Comments

Immigration Overhaul Shows Signs of Life

Video Shows Boehner Mocking Colleagues on Immigration

Immigration Reform: Decidedly Not Dead for 2014

Where Do House Republicans Stand on Immigration Principles? (Updated Whip Count)

Cruz Does Boehner No Favors

Get breaking news alerts from Roll Call on your iPhone or in your inbox.

  • DrGeneNelson

    Political consultants like Sal Russo and lobbyists like Grover Norquist and Thomas Donahue cannot be trusted on immigration. Rather than serving as voices of the conservative “rank and file,” they serve as mouthpieces for the economic elites that would derive benefits from further liberalization of our already-generous immigration policies.
    Supply-and-demand predicts that immigration-driven talent gluts reduce wages and benefits. Furthermore, immigration-driven population increases bid up the prices of the necessaries of life such as shelter, transportation, food, and services such as health care. All these changes benefit the economic elites. The result is that the economic elites “laugh all the way to the bank” while middle-class Americans are further impoverished.

    • Yep

      They certainly are NOT Tea Partiers. They are establishment RINOs who have attempted to control the Tea Party and push it into supporting amnesty. But one of the main reasons the Tea Party started was to stop Bush’s amnesty efforts. Sal Russo is a a RINO who needs to be kicked out by the Tea Party.

      • Osama0bama

        Exactly. This Russo pinhead is to the TEA Party what Taco Hell is to Mexican food!

        Well, probably a bad analogy in this particular argument but .. okay: Russo is to the TEA Party what the Olive Garden is to Italian food.

        • poorhardworker

          You worked your way out!!! Perfect analogy!!!

  • Andre Leonard

    Now there’s an old yet novel idea. Play both ends against the middle.

  • Wigglesworth


    Russo has been criticized for his deep ties to the Republican Party establishment

    and this

    The calls will be moderated by Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, and Russo will be among the first slate of guests.

    • Yep

      Russo is the exact opposite of a Tea Partier.

  • HelpSaveMaryland

    No surprise here. Sal Russo, bbf of Grover Norquist, has always been an open border prostitute. It is unfortunate that elements of the tea party are clueless on illegal immigration and the economic and social implications for the nation.. They show zero concern for unemployed American citzens and will gladly give citizenship to 20 million or more illegals “hiding” and working in plan site in our country. Once these illegals can vote they will vote 80% plus Democrat. Sal and Grover, think they will vote for conservative tea party candidates or sign a no tax increase pledge?? What are you drinking in that Tea Cup??

    • porchhound

      Anyone can join the Tea Party Express and claim to be a conservative as they work behind the scenes to thwart the very principles it was formed around. I’m sure this guy is paid off by the Chamber or Rove. After the Nebraska azzwhooping the statist Republicrats are running scared.

    • Osama0bama

      I thought I smelled Grover Norquist all over this idiot!

      • gfstiel

        how to loose your base on one vote,

  • James

    tea party express supports amnesty?

    • IAMreigns

      Is this dog eat dog? tea party eats tea party? …

  • blasater

    Sal Russo is finished. Just like Rubio.

  • James

    Dear Mr. Obama:
    I’m planning to move my family and extended family into Mexico for my health, and I would like to ask you to assist me. We’re planning to simply walk across the border from the U.S. into Mexico, and we’ll need your help to make a few arrangements. We plan to skip all the legal stuff like visas, passports, immigration quotas and laws. I’m sure they handle those things the same way you do here So, would you mind telling your buddy, the President of Mexico , that I’m on my way over? Please let him know that I will be expecting the following:

    1. Free medical care for my entire family.
    2. English-speaking Government bureaucrats for all services I might need, whether I use them or not.
    3. Please print all Mexican Government forms in English.
    4. I want my grand kids to be taught Spanish by English-speaking (bi-lingual) teachers.
    5. Tell their schools they need to include classes on American culture and history.
    6. I want my grand kids to see the American flag on one of the flag poles at their school.
    7. Please plan to feed my grand kids at school for both breakfast and lunch.
    8. I will need a local Mexican driver’s license so I can get easy access to government services.
    9. I do plan to get a car and drive in Mexico, but I don’t plan to purchase car insurance, and I probably won’t make any special effort to learn local traffic laws.
    10. In case one of the Mexican police officers does not get the memo from their president to leave me alone, please be sure that every patrol car has at least one English-speaking officer.
    11. I plan to fly the U.S. flag from my house top, put US. flag decals on my car, and have a gigantic celebration on July 4th. I do not want any complaints or negative comments from the locals.
    12. I would also like to have a nice job without paying any taxes, or have any labor or tax laws enforced on any business I may start.
    13. Please have the president tell all the Mexican people to be extremely nice and never say critical things about me or my family, or about the strain we might place on their economy.
    14. I want to receive free food stamps.
    15. Naturally, I’ll expect free rent subsidies.
    16. I’ll need income tax credits so that although I don’t pay Mexican taxes, I’ll receive money from the government.
    17. Please arrange it so that the Mexican Government pays $4,500.00 to help me buy a new car.
    18. Oh yes, I almost forgot, please enroll me free into the Mexican Social Security program so that I’ll get a monthly income in retirement.

    I know this is an easy request because you already do all these things for all of his people who walk over to the U.S. from Mexico.
    I am sure that the President of Mexico won’t mind returning the favor if you ask him nicely.

    Do you see how stupid this looks when you put it in writing????
    Logic is dead.
    Excellence is punished.
    Mediocrity is rewarded.
    And dependency is to be revered.
    This is present day America.
    When people rob banks they go to prison.
    When they rob the taxpayer they get re-elected.

    • aliswell

      Deserves 100 up votes.

  • Rich Ollar

    We have laws we just need to enforce them

  • LastMomStanding

    No thanks, Sal!

    Funny how these folks “living in the shadows” manage to get welfare so easily. Cut off their welfare and the system will *overhaul* itself.

  • yerbullshit

    Russo just exposed himself as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

  • StopThisMadness

    Sorry. These elitists do not represent the average American. They are a money making machine….to line their own pockets.

    Inside Game: Creating PACs and then Spending Their Money~ProPublica, March 15, 2013

    “An examination of the PACs’ expenditures shows they spent a small percentage of the money they raised on work directly aimed at getting candidates elected — paid ads, say, or contributions to other political committees. Mainly, they paid consultants. And the biggest chunk of that consultant money went to Russo, Marsh and Associates, and people connected to the firm.

    Of the $9.3 million spent by Our Country Deserves Better, more than $3.8 million went to Russo, Marsh and Associates, employees or others connected to the firm. Of the $3.9 million spent by the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, $2.4 million went to the firm and its associates. The pro-military Move America Forward Freedom PAC spent almost $143,000. Of that, $92,000 went to the firm and people connected to it.”

  • Osama0bama

    Hey, Russo: We ALREADY HAVE “immigration reform.” It’s called ENFORCING THE EXISTING IMMIGRATION LAWS, dimwit!

  • Sonshine

    The only thing broken about our immigration laws is the lack of total enforcement. Does that need a Congressional bill to fix it?

    • poorhardworker

      No…it only take a replacement for Obama! The laws are on the books but the Obama/Holder cabal refuse to enforce the current laws!

  • mastedon2

    What defines an ACT OF TREASON?????

  • Forums4Justice

    WAGE STAGNATION began in the years leading up to the 1986 Amnesty STOP THE INSANITY

    Obama lied about Illegal Immigrant Deportations… … #tcot #p2#teaparty

  • Nicholas DeLuca

    Seems sensible since the TP is rapidly losing favor with the voting public. The number of those who identify with the TP has fallen to 22% from 29%. The end is nigh !

    • Amash

      Check last nights voting results. Tea. Party wins. You wishing they’d go away, doesn’t make it reality. Deal with it.

      • Nicholas DeLuca

        Amash…. Indeed there where two TP victories last night. The issue is that the power and influence of the TP on the national scene are on the wane. The stridency, shrillness and the inflexibility of the TP as well as some of the TP candidates have turned many , many voters off. It is not effective to be only against things. Positive programs, candidates and ideology are more effective .

  • Truth Gun

    F*ck you Sal.

  • Michael McNeil

    Never heard of him. Sal Russo of the Tea Party Express?

  • Erudite Mavin

    Where is the outrage by some of the posters on Mr. tp Rand Paul who is more extreme on this issue……

    Obama already has his Dream Act Amnesty from his 2012 Executive Order and said he will continue his Amnesty Executive Orders.

    The Rand Paul Evolution: Rand Paul calls for ‘path to citizenship’ for illegals

    By Rosalind S. Helderman, Published: March 19, 2013

    Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a conservative tea party icon and possible 2016
    presidential contender, endorsed an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws
    that would allow the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to obtain
    legalized status.

    “Immigration will not occur until conservative
    Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution.

    Rand Paul: GOP must get ‘beyond deportation’

    By: Katie Glueck

    April 1, 2014
    Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday argued the Republican Party needs to get “beyond deportation” in order to break through to Hispanic voters
    Then you have his dad Ron Paul when in Congress voted against every bill that would fence the border.

  • Retired military

    Immigration passes and myself and my family will NEVER vote again. For anyone. If they dont want our vote we will refuse to give it to them.

  • Weihan Xingqi

    Just when many of us thought that the Tea Party was the only force standing in the way of complete destruction of the USA, we learn of yet more TREASONOUS plans! This is horrible news.

    American citizens: Do your part to stop this insanity! Please call or fax Boehner’s office at: (202) 225-6205 Fax: (202) 225-0704 and demand: NO AMNESTY! NO LEGALIZATION OF ILLEGAL ALIENS! NO PATHWAY TO CITIZENSHIP!

    This is nothing less than the next phase of implementing the North American Union courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations and their financiers in the elite banking circles. They want and will implement a single North American Union with Mexico, the USA, and Canada initially, to be followed later by all of Central America into a single country, similar to the European (soon to become the Mediterranean) Union.

    Most of us do not want to live in a Spanish-speaking country like Mexico, but the American people have been so blind-sided by the elite plans for global governance that there is now simply no choice. The future looks HORRIBLE!

  • octavian61

    I’m not surprised. Maybe there’s a few bucks in it for him behind the scene. We have the WORST generation of “so-called” leaders in our history. The worst of the worst. No matter Repoop or Demoncrat or Tea or Pizza or Bachelor party. It’s just a label. It’s the driver, not the car.

  • Kafir

    I understand what he’s trying to say but here’s the problem: For every illegal working in the US, there’s an employer who broke the law by hiring him. The employer did this because he can save money and time. He doesn’t have to pay insurance, workers’ comp, or taxes on that illegal. If you give them legal status in any way, shape, or form, all that hassle and expense comes back and the (former) illegal will likely lose his job and be replaced by another illegal.

    True conservative reform would be to aggressively enforce the laws against hiring illegals. Dry up the demand and the supply will take care of itself. My TEA party vetted a lot of state and local candidates this year. Most of them got campaign donations from home builders in my state. Care to guess why?

  • Robert Starkand

    He just killed the Tea Party Express. These business interests infiltrate deeply.

  • aniptofar

    Amnesty will cost over 16 trillion dollars. NO ONE who supports TEA party principles can be for amnesty.

  • bkeyser

    How is a “longtime GOP operative and consultant” considered a legitimate Tea Party member to begin with? Seems he would’ve had to been almost entirely unsuccessful at his job in order to form an anti-GOP(Establishment) Tea Party faction.

  • redware

    Stop the BS! Round the little bastards up and send them all back!

  • Caulfieldgirl

    Anyone in Congress who votes for mass amnesty commit TREASON and each
    should be charged with being a TRAITOR. The Constitution does not give
    them anyway possible to allow all those ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS to stay in this
    Country legally.

    “Citizenship though is not a right that is given nor the privileges
    of citizenship to any immigrant whether legal or illegal until they have
    been established by the laws of naturalization as Americans.
    Birth gives Americans the right of citizenship but to those who immigrate
    citizenship must be given by the rule of law. The Framers made it very
    clear that the law must first be satisfied before the rights of
    citizenship are available. Each Constitutional reference to our rights
    and privileges are for the people who are the citizens only.
    The Framers realized that once the freedoms and liberties that we have in
    this country became known to the world that The United States would
    become a melting pot of cultures and nationalities from all over the
    world. But they also understood the necessity of keeping our identity as
    Americans and in establishing a uniform rule of law for gaining
    citizenship in America and having as born and naturalized citizens the
    rights and privileges of Americans”.

    took an “Oath of Office” to UPHOLD the CONSTITUTION. If they don’t the
    only alternative is to be PROSECUTED…….And we MUST……

  • poorhardworker

    Sal Russo has either been bought…or (almost the same thing) sold us out!

    “A source familiar with the rationale behind Russo’s decision to make public his support for an overhaul told CQ Roll Call that Russo was urged to speak out by the Partnership for a New American Economy.

    The coalition of “500 Republican, Democratic and independent mayors and business leaders united in making the economic case for streamlining, modernizing, and rationalizing our immigration system” will compliment the rollout of Russo’s op-ed with a Wednesday afternoon conference call, the first in a monthly series of such calls focused on “the need to fix the broken immigration system.”


  • Penny

    I just dropped a note to the Tea Party Express (
    with a request to forward my comments to Sal Russo.
    Among my comments is this: Why does ANYONE stand for CHEAPENING American citizenship through amnesty of any construct? Why does ANYONE stand for cheapening the wages of American citizens when illegal aliens are willing to work for tax-free cash wages, under the table at that? My guts spilleth over in rage at the lawless Obama and his willing sellouts.

  • Borderhawk

    Sal Russo supported open borders in 2002. It turns out he said: ”Giuliani’s important for us,” said Sal Russo, Mr. Simon’s chief campaign strategist.

  • GregSerbon


  • Steven Morris

    My nose is following a trail of corrupt money. Sal ole boy needs to go. Sarah needs to pound the nails in his casket.

  • Klen8888

    If there are any traders out there trading the Forex I wanted to warn you don’t waste your time I’ve been trying to make money with it for years! Go to the website Emini S&P Trading Secret and get into trading the futures instead it’s much better now I’m making money trading and very happy.

  • CherokeeDan

    Whenever someone uses the term “bring them out of the shadows” you know they are amnesty advocates. This guy is why I don’t belong to any national Tea Party groups. Our Tea Party is a local group concerned with restoring Constitutional limitation on the federal government, sanity to government spending and taxing and BORDER SECURITY first before ANY discussion with what to do about the illegals.

    • Wigglesworth

      “Wait in the back of the line” is another establishment talking point that has no basis in reality. Russo has deep ties to the establishment.

      • jimijazz


  • Bill Hussein O’Stalin

    Amnesty. That’s all it amounts to when you take out the BS.

  • D.C.J.

    Russo why don’t you talk about, 1) Secure the Borders First & foremost. 2) E-Verify/Bio-Metrics 100 % up & running. 3) Allow Border Patrol/ICE Agents to perform their sworn duties. What is so fricking hard about them 3 issues addressed and done 1st??? What a bunch of morons you all are.

  • jimijazz

    Sal Russo is a snake – this will be THE reason the Tea Party collapses. Too many corporate snakes in the grass. The Tea Party electorate do NOT want amnesty. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Russo.

  • Amberteka

    As the Obama Administration, in concert with addled RINOs, work to push amnesty for tens of millions of illegal aliens down the throats of the American people, a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) documents the fact that this administration has little or no regard for the safety and security of American citizens.

    Indeed, despite Barack Obama’s outrageous and idiotic claim that he has earned the title, “Deportations -in-Chief” President, the bitter truth is that his administration has executed policies which seriously threaten American citizens for the sake of pandering to non-citizen illegal aliens.

    Specifically, a report from the CIS exposes the horrible truth: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released from detention 36,007 convicted criminal aliens awaiting the outcome of their deportation proceedings—including 193 individuals convicted of murder, 426 convicted of sexual assault, 1,075 convicted of aggravated assault, and 303 convicted of kidnapping.

    Just how is it that our government released convicted murderers, those convicted of sexual assault, aggravated assault, and kidnapping?

    Has our government actually bought into the brain-dead argument advanced by RINO Jeb Bush which holds that illegal aliens are driven to invade America by “love”?

    Since when is it acceptable for the US government to free murderers, kidnappers, etc. with little or no regard for the security of American citizens?

  • Don Jusko

    John N. is right, “I’m all for immigration reform. The government’s
    enforcement of our existing laws needs a lot of reform. They need to
    enforce the laws that are on the books. They need to secure the
    boarders. They need to round up and deport all illegal aliens back to
    their country of origin.”
    Norm V. is right, “”NO IMMIGRATION REFORM. Do you really want 12 million plus new democrat votes ???

    Investor is the one with their head up their A$$. “a bold statement
    that could energize advocates and alienate conservatives”.
    There is
    not a Conservative alive that doesn’t realize that o is doing everything
    he can to take us down. It seems to me Liberty Investor doesn’t know
    the difference and want’s to confuse us. If it takes an overhaul to fix
    the border or if it just takes following laws already in place, the
    answer is E-verify, Anyone can come here as long as their first step is
    to become a citizen.

    Raymond S., get it together, don’t fall for
    anything that is trying to divide and conquer, This is the second time
    Liberty Investor has tried to be clever with words to seem conservative.
    Wolf’s dressed like sheep is the way I read it.

  • Yonatan YONATAN


  • Matt D.

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...