CA Republicans to push immigration reform

by James Poulos | November 6, 2015 5:37 am

Immigration[1]Bucking their newly minted party leadership, several members of California’s congressional delegation have resolved to push ahead with a new bill that would reform immigration law by loosening it up.

Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and David Valadao, R-Hanford, expressed confidence that they can secure a vote on the so-called ENLIST Act, which has been stalled in committee for months. The Act, as the Los Angeles Times reported[2], “would allow people brought to the United States illegally as children before 2011 to become lawful alien residents if they complete a term of military service.”

Although Denham and Valadao, the Times added, rank “among the most outspoken members of their party pushing for comprehensive immigration overhaul,” their focus on ENLIST reflected a broader unwillingness among House Republicans to tackle the issue this election season — whether in pieces or as a whole.

Running out the clock

The hands-off position was freshly cemented by newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan. To help secure the backing of the House Freedom Caucus, which has depicted comprehensive immigration reform as a concoction of big business and big government, “Ryan pledged he would not move an immigration reform overhaul to the floor unless it was backed by a majority of House Republicans,” as The Hill recalled[3].

Ryan, The Hill noted, “was loosely involved with talks about immigration reform in the House in 2013. At the time, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers was working to put together a comprehensive immigration overhaul. Ryan wasn’t part of the core group, but did have conversations with its members.” Leading Republicans have sometimes been burned by their support for that effort. Sen. Marco Rubio, for instance, has had to pivot away in order to shore up his right flank and seize an advantage against main primary season rival Gov. Jeb Bush.

Balance and blame

Paul Ryan[4]Ryan, for his part, did not disavow outright his preference for a so-called “pathway” to citizenship for many unlawful and undocumented immigrants. But in recent remarks on the CBS program Meet the Press, he tried to indicate that he actually preferred a path to “legal status” instead of outright citizenship, as the Associated Press noted[5]:

“Legal status versus citizenship is an important distinction, partly because only citizenship confers the right to vote. His office said Ryan supports ‘earned legal status,’ noting that this could eventually lead to citizenship through existing channels.”

At the same time, Ryan blamed president Obama for his reluctance to proceed with immigration legislation. “Look, I think it would be a ridiculous notion to try and work on an issue like this with a president we simply cannot trust on this issue,” he said[6]. “He tried to go it alone, circumventing the legislative process with his executive orders, so that is not in the cards.”

The response from the White House was swift. Press Secretary Josh Earnest “accused new House Speaker Paul Ryan of ‘pandering to the extreme right wing’ of his party on immigration,” the Associated Press reported[7], labeling his comments “preposterous.”

Bicoastal politics

Although the testy rhetoric suggested little room for lawmakers to maneuver, California Republicans like Denham and Valadao have taken advantage of unusual personal circumstances to pursue their agenda. Hispanics make up a significant percentage of voters in both representatives’ districts, as the Hill observed, while both currently lean Republican, the Cook Political Report determined[8].

In other words, although their districts remained competitive heading into 2016, both lawmakers boasted enough support at home to seek to expand their vote by sticking their neck out politically in Washington. Of late, California has racked up numerous and generous programs for unlawful immigrants. Measures passed this year, the AP noted[9], “to help immigrants in the U.S. illegally by improving their access to health care, opposing discrimination and enabling more people to apply for legal status. One measure aims to help immigrant crime victims apply for federal government visas.”

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