NPR Story
2:27 pm
Thu November 7, 2013

Republicans Pressured From Both Sides On Immigration

Originally published on Thu November 7, 2013 2:42 pm

In the debate over providing legal status to the more than 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, California’s Republicans are taking a leadership role on reform measures in Congress.

Representative Jeff Denham recently became the first Republican to co-sponsor the Democrat’s plan, which includes a path to citizenship.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Jill Replogle of Fronteras Desk at KPBS looks into what’s driving the California Republican.

Meanwhile, GOP Congressman Darrell Issa is proposing a new “halfway” approach to citizenship. Alan Gomez of USA Today joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson for the latest on what’s happening in Washington.

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Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW. California Republicans in Congress are taking a leadership role in the effort to provide legal status to the more than 11 million immigrants in this country illegally. Representative Jeff Denham recently became the first Republican to co-sponsor the Democrats' plan, which includes a path to citizenship.

Meanwhile, GOP Congressman Darrell Issa is proposing a new halfway approach to citizenship. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Jill Replogle at the Fronteras Desk at KPBS looks into what's driving the California Republicans.

JILL REPLOGLE, BYLINE: California Congressman Darrell Issa's district stretches along the coast from the University of California San Diego in La Jolla to southern Orange County. The district is solid Republican territory. Issa won his 2012 re-election bid by a 16-point margin.

Issa's constituents are mostly white and largely affluent. Still, Issa isn't immune to the demographic changes taking place throughout California and the country.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking foreign language)

REPLOGLE: In Issa's hometown of Vista, Maria Reyes(ph) and several family members attend to a steady stream of Spanish-speaking customers at their small grocery store and tortilla factory. On this weekday afternoon, it seems to be the busiest storefront on Main Street.

MARIA REYES: Our regulars and the ones who support this business are Mexicans, I mean Latinos.

REPLOGLE: About one-quarter of Issa's district is Latino, and polls have shown that the majority of Latinos want immigration reform with a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally. The details of Issa's plan for immigration reform are still scarce, and his office didn't respond to numerous requests for an interview, but it would reportedly include a six-year period of temporary relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants.

During that time, they would be expected to find a legal way to stay here or leave. Issa told Politico it's, quote, halfway between the full amnesty and simply rejecting people.

But some of Issa's staunchly conservative constituents say that approach is too soft.

PATRICIA NEWMAN: I am Patricia Newman(ph), and I'm the administrator at Cardinal Medical Center.

REPLOGLE: Newman manages her husband's medical practice in Vista. Her office decor includes a stylized portrait of Ronald Reagan. Newman is Mexican-American, and she thinks we should make it easier for immigrants to come here legally, but she's suspicious that Issa's proposal would reward those who haven't followed the rules and encourage others to keep coming here illegally.

NEWMAN: This whole subject to me is about the rule of law.

REPLOGLE: Newman thinks the Republican Party is compromising its ideals in exchange for votes.

NEWMAN: I really think that's what they're doing. I think they're just considering all these things just so they can get new votes. I don't think they're thinking it through.

REPLOGLE: But Republicans like Issa are facing pressure from business and faith leaders and even some GOP donors to take action on immigration reform. The Vista Chamber of Commerce recently joined state and national business groups in endorsing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents. They also want a temporary worker program for high and low-skilled workers and strong border security. Bret Schanzenbach is CEO of the Vista Chamber. He says immigration reform would help the economy and keep the U.S. competitive.

BRET SCHANZENBACH: We also have businesses that have had tangible difficulties bringing talent in from outside the country when they needed people.

REPLOGLE: Political scientists warn the Republican Party risks becoming irrelevant if it can't appeal to the country's growing Latino population. That warning hasn't seemed to hold much weight for Republican Congressmembers in districts with few Latino voters, but the political calculations are different for party leaders.

TOM WONG: Issa specifically, he is somebody who is in a position of leadership and from all the talk has aspirations for higher office.

REPLOGLE: Tom Wong(ph) is a political science professor at U.C. San Diego.

WONG: He not only is concerned with his own electoral survival, but with eyes towards higher office he also has to be concerned with the Republican brand as a whole and how that's perceived nationally.

REPLOGLE: Several other Republican Congressmembers have recently signed onto the House Democrats' immigration reform bill, which includes a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally. Wong says Issa's halfway plan could help propel a real discussion on the issue in the Republican Caucus.

But time is quickly running out this year to get that discussion going. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Jill Replogle in Vista, California.

YOUNG: And Jill's report comes to us from the Fronteras Desk, a public radio collaboration in the Southwest focusing on the border, immigration and changing demographics.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Well, let's pick up on Jill's report and ask what is going on with immigration reform in Washington right now. For an update we are joined by Alan Gomez, immigration reporter at USA Today. He's with us from NPR Studios in Washington. Alan, welcome.

ALAN GOMEZ: Thank you.

HOBSON: So we've heard there about Darrell Issa's halfway plan. There's the Senate bill, which is more comprehensive. There are smaller bills in the House. What - tell us what's going on. What is most likely to happen in Washington?

GOMEZ: Well, yeah, the Senate passed their bill back in June, and like you said, it's a comprehensive thing. So basically that means it affects every aspect of immigration law: border security, more visas and that pathway to citizenship.

What the House has been doing for the last few months is taking what they call a piecemeal approach, going bit by bit and trying to kind of bite off little bits of that immigration issue. And so you've had these smaller bills that have been advanced. There's about five of them that are ready to go and ready to be voted on in the House, whenever they choose to bring them up, but they have not addressed the issue of citizenship yet.

I mean Representative Issa, as we've heard, has not filed his bill yet. There's another bill that would deal with young undocumented immigrants that's been talked about. Eric Cantor, Bob Goodlatte, who's the chairman of the judiciary committee, they're talking about a bill like that, but we haven't seen anything like that so much as been filed.

So we're still a ways away, and everybody's just waiting on that House Republican leadership to figure out what they want to do.

HOBSON: And if the House decides to pass these piecemeal bills and not deal with the issue of citizenship for the 11 million people who are here illegally, would the Democrats sign on to something like that?

GOMEZ: Well, to hear the Senate Democrats say it, absolutely not. They say that they absolutely need that pathway to citizenship to be included in any sort of bill, and that's where you're seeing a lot of the holdup in the House. Yes, they've been taking these sort of small bites, and they've been looking at these small aspects of immigration reform, but that conservative core of the House, where a lot of them are very hesitant to embrace anything that includes a pathway to citizenship, they're worried that the House will pass a few of these small bills, and then once it goes to a conference committee with the Senate to try to resolve the differences, that basically they're going to get that whole Senate bill back in the House and they'll be forced to vote on that.

HOBSON: Now, the reason that there was momentum for immigration reform in the first place was because after the 2012 election there was a general consensus that Republicans did not do well in part because they didn't get much support from Latino voters at all in that election.

We just had another election the other day, and in two of the big races, the governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia, you saw a very similar thing play out, with Latino voters going for the candidates who won who do not represent the position that a lot of the more right-wing Republicans are. So any message there? Is there going to be more momentum now because of the election the other day?

GOMEZ: I mean it's difficult, I think, to read into these two elections because if you go back to last year's presidential, the magic number for Republicans is 27 percent. That's the amount of Hispanic votes that Mitt Romney got in the election and a lot of people think is a big reason that he lost.

Now fast-forward. Ever since you've had senators like John McCain, other GOP national leaders like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, talking about the need to not pass immigration reform just to get those votes but to at least begin having that conversation with Hispanic voters, to kind of get that out of the way so they can talk about things like the economy and jobs and education and stuff like that.

So what you've seen is this really big push to try to get something moving on immigration reform. And, you know, if you look at the races from Tuesday, Governor Christie in New Jersey, he came away with 51 percent of the Hispanic vote. That's a huge increase from his 2009 vote, and you could read into that and say that he did better with Hispanics, so that kind of helped.

But he also did do better overall.

HOBSON: Alan, I think we're going to have to leave it there, but thank you. Alan Gomez, immigration reporter for USA Today, thanks a lot. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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