House’s Most Conservative Members Soften Tone on Immigration

Acknowledging that reform won’t happen in 2014 has given Republicans a chance to appeal to Hispanic voters.

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17: Immigrants celebrate after taking the oath of allegiance to the United States at a naturalization ceremony on January 17, 2014 in New York City. One hundred and fifty-three people from 41 countries became American citizens at the event.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Sarah Mimms
March 12, 2014, 10:23 a.m.

As the smell of Chick-fil-A sand­wiches cool­ing in the corner waf­ted over them, some of the House’s most con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers took an un­usu­ally soft tone on im­mig­ra­tion re­form on Wed­nes­day.

While ac­know­ledging at their monthly “Con­ver­sa­tions With Con­ser­vat­ives” event that little in the form of ac­tu­al le­gis­la­tion is likely to be done on the is­sue this year, sev­er­al con­ser­vat­ives im­pli­citly voiced their sup­port for al­low­ing those who were brought in­to the coun­try il­leg­ally as chil­dren, and for those who are will­ing to work hard, to so­lid­i­fy their status in the coun­try.

Rep. Joe Bar­ton, R-Texas, kicked off the dis­cus­sion by us­ing the L-word. “I think there is a middle ground. It’s not a cit­izen­ship path, but it is a leg­al­iz­a­tion path,” Bar­ton said, adding that “the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the His­pan­ics in Texas are either there be­cause they were born there or they’ve come there to work and they are work­ing and they’re pos­it­ive, pro­duct­ive cit­izens.”

Bar­ton went on to re­count a meet­ing he held in his dis­trict on Tues­day with a group of His­pan­ic-Amer­ic­ans, in­clud­ing a wo­man in her “mid-40s, maybe her early 50s,” he said, who was brought to the United States il­leg­ally by her par­ents when she was just four years old. “She’s worked hard, she’s paid her taxes, she’s a pro­duct­ive cit­izen. We’ve got to find a way as Re­pub­lic­ans to help that wo­man and her fam­ily keep her in this coun­try without be­ing per­petu­ally afraid that she’s go­ing to be de­por­ted,” Bar­ton said.

At the same time, con­ser­vat­ives ar­gued, noth­ing can be done for people like Bar­ton’s con­stitu­ent un­til the bor­der is se­cure. “I think you would be amazed at what we will agree to once the bor­der is se­cure,” Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said em­phat­ic­ally Wed­nes­day.

The change in tone among con­ser­vat­ives comes weeks after House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship ad­mit­ted that des­pite put­ting out a series of im­mig­ra­tion-re­form prin­ciples, noth­ing will be done this year to act on them. At the same time, this is an elec­tion year and Re­pub­lic­ans openly ac­know­ledge the need to ap­peal to His­pan­ic voters. “There’s so much we can do to show the His­pan­ic com­munity that we value them if they value the Amer­ic­an value sys­tem.”¦ We just can­not turn our back on that con­stitu­ency or that is­sue. But at the same time, we can’t just open the bor­der and say come on in,” Bar­ton said.

An­oth­er fel­low Tex­an, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, ad­ded: “Un­less you get bor­der se­cur­ity right, I’m not sure any oth­er thing counts and how can you count on this ad­min­is­tra­tion to get bor­der se­cur­ity right?”

The ex­cuse that Obama, who has in­creas­ingly re­lied on ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion to skirt around Con­gress, can­not be trus­ted to en­force new and ex­ist­ing im­mig­ra­tion laws has opened up Re­pub­lic­ans to soften their tone on the is­sue. Their hope is that show­ing com­pas­sion coupled with the in­sist­ence that they would act, if not for an in­ef­fect­ive pres­id­ent, will help to at­tract His­pan­ic voters in 2014, of­fer­ing a change in rhet­or­ic, but little in the way of ac­tion.

Hensarling summed up the tac­tic on Wed­nes­day. “I’ve got lots of com­pas­sion for people who are com­ing in­to this coun­try and are just try­ing to feed their kids, I get that. I mean if I was in that po­s­i­tion, you couldn’t make the razor wire sharp enough or the wall high enough, I get that. But at the same time you can­not ex­cuse those whose first act is to break the law,” Hensarling said.

But what to ac­tu­ally do with those who entered the coun­try il­leg­ally is an is­sue that Re­pub­lic­ans are leav­ing for an­oth­er day. Part of the is­sue is that the party wants to fo­cus the midterm elec­tions on the fail­ures of the Af­ford­able Care Act, rather than open them­selves up for at­tack on a new and con­ten­tious is­sue.

But that strategy could back­fire, warned Rep. Raul Lab­rador, R-Idaho, who has been a lead­er in the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence on im­mig­ra­tion re­form. “I think we need to have a pos­it­ive agenda for Amer­ica. We need to talk about the four, five, six is­sues that we stand for. If we only talk about Obama­care, we’re go­ing to have the same res­ult that we had in 2012, which is a lot of ex­cite­ment and a lot of people on the night of the elec­tion think­ing that we’re go­ing to win the elec­tion and be­ing very dis­ap­poin­ted the next morn­ing,” he said.

What We're Following See More »
TRUMP’S ATTORNEY WAS SET TO TESTIFY ON WEDNESDAY
Senate Intel Postpones Testimony by Cohen
1 days ago
THE LATEST
AMENDMENT WOULD HAVE PREVENTED CONSIDERATION
Senate Rejects Effort to Nix SALT Tax Changes
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Senate Democrats on Thursday failed in their first attempt to save the state and local tax deduction, which helps many residents of California and other high-cost states reduce their federal income tax bills. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-47 to reject an amendment that would have prevented the Senate from considering any bill that repeals or limits the deduction as part of a planned tax overhaul."

Source:
INTERVIEWED BY COMMITTEE STAFF
Lewandowski Meets with Senate Intelligence Committee
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared on Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview with the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the matter. Lewandowski is the latest senior official in Trump's orbit who has met with the committee as part of its investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign."

Source:
FISHING EXPEDITION
Some Members Seek to Wrap Up Russia Investigations by Year’s End
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"A growing number of key Republicans are sending this message to the leaders of the congressional committees investigating potential Trump campaign collusion with the Russians: Wrap it up soon. In the House and Senate, several Republicans who sit on key committees are starting to grumble that the investigations have spanned the better part of the past nine months, contending that the Democratic push to extend the investigation well into next year could amount to a fishing expedition."

Source:
WROTE LAW THAT WEAKENED OPIOID OVERSIGHT
Trump: Marino Withdrawing Nomination for Drug Czar
4 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login