Picture this, if you can: A roomful of House Republicans have nothing but praise for a fellow Republican who has just come out in favor of immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. As they express support for some version of immigration reform, they are asked if any of them disagree with a plan to legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. They look around, then shake their heads. No one raises an objection.
This is no Onion article; it’s Talking Points Memo, on how a near-dozen conservative, A-grade NumbersUSA Republicans at a panel hosted by the Heritage Foundation all support some version of immigration reform in the style of Rand Paul.
It was pretty extraordinary when Sen. Paul (R-KY), a Tea Party darling and the winner of last weekend’s CPAC straw poll, came out in favor of immigration reform with citizenship yesterday. Now adding to the lineup of pro-immigration reform Republicans—or Republicans who are at least getting there, are:
- Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a member of the House Group of 8 who we’ve lambasted before for supporting immigration reform without citizenship. Today he said that he could support a pathway to citizenship as long as it doesn’t create a shortcut for undocumented immigrants: “”What I think should happen is, anybody who’s here illegally can come out of the shadows, become legalized in some way, have some sort of legal status, and the status could lead to legal permanent residency and citizenship eventually, but just the same as anybody else who falls into that category,” he said according to Buzzfeed.
- Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), who has an A+ career rating from Numbers USA and once compared illegal immigrants to “vagrants” and “animals, today said “I thought [Rand Paul] did a very, very good job in talking about and embracing some ideals of dealing with illegal immigration and embracing some of the reform measures my friends are putting together.”
- Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) said “We’re not going to round up millions and millions of people, kids and grandmas and grandpas and send them to wherever,” adding there were both “conservative arguments” and “emotional arguments” that should compel the House to address immigration.
- From Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a former chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee and another career “A” rater from NumbersUSA who once called immigration reform a “misguided approach,” today said, “I think many of us are willing to consider what Raul [Labrador] just described there.”
- And Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) told Talking Points Memo he could find plenty to like in a comprehensive bill from a conservative perspective — it would boost to his state’s agricultural business, local Catholic leaders support it, and by granting legal status to undocumented immigrants it would be easier to track and prevent them from using welfare benefits. “[Americans] know the system has been broken,” he said.
In short, as TPM noted, immigration reform that legalizes the 11 million is now the conservative floor for reform. The mainstream position is immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship (and as we’ve said many times before, we won’t support anything less). It appears now that the big question isn’t whether there is a path to citizenship, but what that path looks like. It has to be a real path that is achievable for the 11 million aspiring Americans who will apply.
All year, the momentum for immigration legislation has only grown — and it now includes some very unlikely supporters, like the Members of Congress on this Heritage panel, including two members (Huelskamp and Schweikert) who were booted from committee assignments at the beginning of this Congress by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) for voting against leadership from the right too often. Even these conservative hardliners get the changing political dynamics and moral imperatives for reform.
It’s got to be driving the likes of Steve King, Lamar Smith, Lou Barletta and James Sensenbrenner crazy that there’s nothing close to a right-wing insurgency building to derail reform in the House right now. That’s not to say those anti-immigrant hardliners won’t try. But we like the direction this is heading. We just need to make sure it leads to real reform with a real, achievable path to citizenship.