Republicans May Be Changing Minds on Immigration Reform
Members of Congress have been on recess for only a few days, but it already seems the time away from Washington means more support for a pathway to citizenship among some Republicans.
In the past few days, two Republican members of the House of Representatives - Daniel Webster in Florida, Aaron Schock in Illinois - have expressed preliminary support for a way to legalize undocumented immigrants and allow them to eventually earn full citizenship. Even the House GOP whip, Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), announced support for legal status, although he stopped just short of supporting full citizenship.
The announcements come on the cusp of an intense campaign by pro-immigration advocates targeting key House members at town-hall events; it's all part of a larger five-week plan for hundreds of rallies, petition drives and other events across the country timed for the Congressional recess.
"Our movement is taking the fight for immigration reform to every corner of the country," Frank Sharry, executive director at immigration reform advocacy organization America's Voice, told ABC News in a statement. "Advocates from the left, right and center are intent on surrounding House Republicans with some simple messages: immigration reform is an idea whose time has come, a proposal deserving of your support and an issue that deserves a vote in the House of Representatives where a bipartisan majority in support of it already exists."
Both Webster and Shock say they would support a pathway as long as certain pre-conditions are met, bringing the total to 21 House Republicans in support of a measure to bring the 11 million undocumented out of the shadows and into legal status and citizenship.
On Friday, Webster was the first GOP member to announce his support during the August recess. House speaker John Boehner previously said he would not bring immigration to the floor unless a "vast majority" of the House GOP supports the bill. Following the Senate's June passage of a comprehensive immigration bill, the House has taken up the issue on a piece-by-piece basis.
This past Sunday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor refused to give a commitment on whether the House would take up a vote on a path to citizenship. When Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace asked, "A simple yes or no, are you committed to a vote this year on a path to legalization?" Cantor replied, "We will have a vote on a series of bills at some point…. And it will deal with a variety of issues. Border security is a really important issue because it goes to that trust factor, as well."
Webster, whom advocates of immigration reform consider one of 23 "swing" House Republicans, preempted immigration support organizations who had planned to target him the following day at a town-hall meeting.
"We're a nation of immigrants, there's no question about that. But we're also a nation of laws," Webster said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. "I think we have to honor both of those."
Webster's support does come with a list of prerequisites, including border security with 90% operational control verified by the Government Accountability Office, and e-verify- both measures already included in the Senate bill passed in June.
He also goes a step further and supports local law enforcement's enforcing immigration laws, a contentious issue following last year's Supreme Court ruling upholding an Arizona law that allows local police to inquire about immigration status. That measure is not in the bipartisan Senate bill.
Ben Monterroso, executive director for Mi Familia Vota, a national Latino pro-immigration nonprofit, thanked Webster for his support and "encourage[s] him to engage in comprehensive discussions with other House members and urge[s] them to consider the real need and benefit to fixing our dysfunctional immigration system."
According to the 2010 Census, approximately 14% of voters in Webster's district are Hispanic.
Schock, of Illinois, announced on Tuesday at a town hall that he also would support a pathway to citizenship as long as certain requirements are met: a secure border, back taxes paid, no criminal history, a probation period, and must go to the back of the line (i.e, behind those waiting in their home country and following legal channels).
Immigration advocates had also targeted Schock with a small immigration reform rally at the Illinois state capitol the same day. According to the 2014 Almanac for American Politics, about 2.3% of Schock's constituents are Hispanic.
A third Republican, House GOP whip McCarthy, also appears to be leaning toward support for legal status for undocumented immigrants.
The Daily Pilot reports that at an event in Newport Beach, Calif., on Tuesday, McCarthy said he supported a guest-worker program, the ability for the undocumented to work toward legal status and a payment penalty for visa overstays, but he did not go so far as to embrace a pathway to citizenship.
"What you then have to address is the 11 million that are here [who are] considered illegal," he said at an event hosted by the Pacific Research Institute. "I personally believe it's different for someone who's been here 30 years than if they've been here three months."
McCarthy, a big target for pro-groups, also expressed support for DREAMers, saying that for those who came as children, "This is your country. You have no other place to go to."
Next week advocates plan a caravan in more than 100 cities, with 1,100 cars and floats to represent the 11 million undocumented, all meeting in front of McCarthy's office.
The recent announcements of support follows the early-July C-Span interview in which Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he could see allowing temporary legal status to the undocumented, and later allowing them to apply for green cards and U.S. citizenship.
"I and other members are open-minded to the idea that they should have a way to come out of the shadows," Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said. "To be able to work, to have their own businesses, to pay their taxes, to travel back and forth to their home country and elsewhere."