Cross-posted at Daily Kos
Even Before August Recess Begins, Two Republicans in Tough Districts Register Support for a Path To Citizenship
Below is the first article in the series, “Immigration Reform Summer,” by Gebe Martinez, Advisor to America’s Voice Education Fund. This article is available for reprint as long as the author is given proper attribution.
We are in the midst of a political debate that will define who we are as a nation.
We have the opportunity to continue the American story that values the contributions of immigrants whose inventions and personal sacrifices helped make this a great country. Or, we can deny our own immigrant pasts and allow nativists to create a damaging social and economic divide that will live on in history.
At issue is whether the current generation of new Americans who seek to contribute to the country where they live, will be allowed to earn a path to citizenship. The potential benefits to our communities and economy by their presence have moved pastors and priests, high technology and Main Street business leaders, and members of all ethnic communities to support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.
Standing in the way of history are House Republicans, from those who refer to immigrants as mules and dogs and oppose any path forward, to those who talk more civilly, but want to see immigrants remain in an indefinite second-class status. They cannot stop the dreams of 11 million aspiring Americans.
When members return to their districts for the summer recess, they will experience “Immigration Reform Summer,” as Asian, Latino and immigrant communities, along with allies from business and faith communities mobilize to urge them to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. They can act now, or face the political consequences in elections for years to come.
This moment in history commands courageous leaders to do what is right.
This report, “Immigration Reform Summer,” will chronicle the growing movement and urgency to pass immigration reform throughout the August recess, beginning with today’s report on the evolving immigration positions of two Western House Republicans. We invite you to join us as we watch history unfold.
The Heat is On: The Story of Two Republicans
The heat is on. Even before the start of the hot August recess, when House members will feel the push for immigration reform from immigrant, Latino and Asian groups, along with business and faith communities allies, hard opposition from Republicans to a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants is starting to melt away.
Evidence the thawing positions of two Republican lawmakers, Congressmen Mike Coffman of Colorado and David Valadao of California.
The Coffman and Valadao districts are as different as their own backgrounds. One comes from the strident, anti-immigrant wing of the GOP, and the other represents the party’s future, if it is to survive the immigration debate. Yet, both have surprised constituents and GOP colleagues with their evolving stances on possible citizenship paths, an idea the conservative-led House has yet to accept.
Coffman, a Tea Partier who advocated denying U.S. citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrants, said this week he is considering how to let undocumented immigrants be on provisional legal status while border security is increased. Once the border is “secure,” a citizenship process could begin. Coffman also favors awarding citizenship to eligible youths who join the military.
That’s a significant shift considering he once called the broader DREAM Act a nightmare and praised Arizona’s SB 1070 racial profiling law, shadowing the anti-immigrant stance of his predecessor, GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo.
Days earlier in California, Valadao, a freshman, received cheers and hugs from 400 immigration reform advocates after giving full throated endorsement to a path to citizenship.
It was a brave move, as Valadao spoke just outside his own district, in the area represented by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. Sharing the stage at the Bakersfield Christian Church were Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill, the House’s lead campaigner for immigration reform; Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall, a Republican; and Ryan Zaninovich, a third generation California grape grower.
When first asked to actively campaign for reform with a citizenship path, Valadao demurred, suggesting his junior House status limited his influence, recalled Delia Serrano, an organizer with the Kern Coalition for Citizenship. But he has seen how speaking out wins local support. “He’s feeling more comfortable with the people around him,” she said.
Coffman and Valadao are warming up to the issue despite the cold and dispassionate House that lags far behind other institutions in accepting the economic, community and security benefits that would directly come from a path to citizenship for undocumented workers and families.
Immigration casework in Coffman’s old district centered on helping constituents get visas to go overseas, Coffman told the Denver Post. “It’s very different now. I gotta tell you it really breaks my heart to sit down with some of these people and they tell me what their day-to-day lives are like. I admit I’ve been moved by some of those stories.”
Like Coffman, Valadao is considered an endangered Republican in 2014 because his central California district has a 71% Latino population. But Valadao has roots in the district, as a former state lawmaker and son of Portuguese immigrants who founded a dairy business. He speaks Portuguese and Spanish. Supporting a path to citizenship was not a far reach for Valadao in his district.
His biggest obstacle is in Washington, where his party leaders consider “path to citizenship” too hot to handle. Nor is his cause helped by radicals who continue to insult immigrants with hateful rhetoric.
The hardline GOP messaging “is just not a good way to start a conversation” with voters, Valadao has said. House Republicans have not heeded the message so far.
But come August, the House will feel the heat.
For more on Reps. Valadao and Coffman:
- Los Angeles Times (July 10, 2013): Labor presses for immigration measure among key Republicans
- San Francisco Chronicle (July 23, 2013): Search for GOP immigration overhaul support tough – even in California
- Denver Post (July 23, 2013): Two Colorado GOP U.S. representatives differ on immigration reform
- Fox Denver (July 23, 2013): Coffman pushes for path to citizenship through the military
View more from Immigration Reform Summer