The small-but-determined cohort of House Republicans fighting for immigration reform is down but not out.
Despite recent setbacks, Republicans who support a pathway to legal status say they’re “absolutely” lobbying their conservative colleagues and there’s more support for reform in their caucus than meets the eye.
Though the House narrowly stripped a minor pro-immigration provision from the National Defense Authorization Act last month, pro-reform Republicans say the 221-202 vote doesn’t fully reflect the depth of GOP support for the measure, which would have let the Pentagon study the possibility of offering a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants who enlist in the military.
One GOP congressman involved in whipping against the amendment that stripped the provision said that “as many as 40” Republicans were opposed to the amendment, many of whom eventually voted yes out of loyalty to party leaders, who worried the immigration language, if left in place, could sink the entire defense bill. In the end, 20 Republicans voted against the proposal.
While some hardliners might make the GOP’s opposition to legal status appear unflinching – Rep. Steve King of Iowa even suggested President Barack Obama could be impeached over the issue – reform-minded Republicans said their conferences is more moderate than the debate sometimes indicates.
“The reality of the situation is that there are many more Republicans who are in favor of reforming our immigration system than the media reports,” said Rep. David Valadao of California, who voted against stripping the provision. “Unfortunately, as is common in Washington, the loudest, most radical voices within a party are often times the loudest, even if they don’t reflect the opinions of the whole.”
Last month’s vote heightened the frustration of pro-reform Republicans who feel their more conservative colleagues are drowning them out.
“I think there are a number of members who’ve never served in the military who have no idea about the amount of immigrants who have not only served honorably but many of which have given their lives for our country” said Rep. Jeff Denham of California, who also voted against the amendment.
Denham, one of the most prominent supporters of immigration reform within the House GOP conference, said that in spite of the recent setback on the NDAA, he does see a path forward on immigration though “there are a couple of members that continue to offer amendments that are unproductive to overall debate.”
A spokesman for Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado – yet another Republican who voted against the amendment and one of 75 Republicans to vote against defunding the Department of Homeland Security over Obama’s executive order in March – said the congressman is also “optimistic” about the prospects for reform.
But hardliners continue to downplay the possibility of a leftward drift on immigration within the House GOP conference.
Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who sponsored last month’s amendment to the defense bill, said he doesn’t believe a pathway to legal status is gaining traction either within his party or with the general public.
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