At least one Republican leader on immigration in the House is ready to allow President Obama and Democrats to take credit for any reform efforts that might pass this year.
“I think my party understands it’s not going to get any political capital from this, but it’s something we need to do,” Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho told National Journal Daily in a brief interview.
Labrador, an archconservative who voted against Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, for speaker, is the go-to guy on immigration for the rank-and-file budget hawks and tea-party members of the House. It’s safe to say that nothing will pass the chamber without at least a tacit nod from him.
Labrador favors some type of legalization for undocumented immigrants (but no special path to citizenship) and giving employers easier access to foreign labor. In other words, he’s ready to strike an immigration deal if liberals will work with him.
That’s why Labrador was so impressed Tuesday when just such a liberal, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., went out of his way to praise the Republicans who control the Judiciary Committee for seeking input from a variety of stakeholders. “That hasn’t always been the case,” Gutierrez said, referring to a long-held congressional practice in which the majority party stacks hearings with partisan witnesses.
“And I think it’s important to note that when we were in charge, that wasn’t always the case,” Gutierrez added, noting that partisan tactics rule on both sides. He offered particular praise to Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.,, another tea-party favorite, for the series of hearings the committee is holding weekly. “In the past, when the majority put up three witnesses, I would not have anything in common with them at all,” Gutierrez said.
That’s just the conciliatory note that Labrador is looking for. Like many Republicans, he is dubious that the president will deal with Republicans in good faith on immigration, even though a sweeping immigration bill would likely count as a huge win for the White House. “They want to win 2014,” Labrador said. Obama picked up 72 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, a big chunk of the electorate that could decide which party controls the House and Senate in the next Congress.
But Labrador, a Hispanic and former immigration lawyer, said Republicans must deal with Democrats and the White House to fix the immigration system. “Hispanics are not going to listen to us” as long as Republicans are viewed as the obstacles to reform, he said.
To tamp down the political edge in the debate, Labrador wants the House to produce its own legislation rather than wait for the Senate to act. If the Republican-controlled House takes the bull by the horns, he says, employers would have a better chance at getting what they need—access to skilled foreign workers—without the impossible hurdles he believes will be facing temporary-worker programs in the Senate.
Legislation from the House might come in several different bills, Labrador said. “But it would be a comprehensive approach—a package.”
This article appears in the March 6, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily as Labrador: Reform More Important Than Political Gain.