Republicans scramble for the center on immigration

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: February 8, 2013
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In California, a handful of GOP state legislators joined Democratic colleagues at a news conference last week to back a pathway to citizenship in any immigration overhaul. In Nevada, where immigrant votes have given Democrats a lopsided edge in recent elections, the state Republican Party last week endorsed legalizing the status of unauthorized immigrants.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain is now one of eight senators pushing for an overhaul, along with Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. McCain had co-sponsored an immigration overhaul that died in 2005, but he disowned the plan while running for president in 2008, and he ran an ad in his 2010 Senate campaign calling for completion of the "danged fence" on the Mexican border.

Colorado, where Hispanics comprised 14 percent of the electorate in November, was solidly red at the beginning of the past decade, when Republicans pushed aggressive measures against illegal immigrants and some Democrats joined them. Since then, the state has twice helped elect President Barack Obama, and Democrats have controlled the state Legislature for three of the last four elections. Hispanics also helped defeat tea party favorite Ken Buck in his 2010 challenge of Sen. Michael Bennet.

Now Buck, well-known for aggressive enforcement of immigration laws as Weld County district attorney, has joined The Colorado Compact, a coalition of politicians, business and community groups that backs a "sensible path forward" for some illegal immigrants.

After years of blocking in-state tuition for illegal immigrants at state colleges and universities, some Republican state lawmakers have decided to support the measure. And congressmen like Coffman are taking a warmer stance toward the idea of a broader immigration overhaul — though it remains uncertain whether they will ultimately vote for citizenship for most illegal immigrants, the goal of immigration rights activists and Obama.

Colorado State Sen. Greg Brophy has kept quiet as he's voted against in-state tuition in recent years. He's been thinking of the high school students he meets in his rural district who are bright, ambitious and here without authorization. Now he supports it. "It tugs at your heart," Brophy said. "I'm positive I'm not alone in it, given the emails I've gotten."

Immigration advocates are heartened.

"There's a sea change that's happening in our politics," Bennet, who worked on the latest bipartisan immigration proposal, said last week in Denver. "Republicans and Democrats alike believe that big numbers of people in this country want to get this finished."

Even so, Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner, one of the state's few GOP stars, balks at the idea of citizenship, though he speaks forcefully about the need to appeal to minorities.

He said Congress must first secure the border before discussing citizenship. "If you address that first, we can have a conversation down the road."

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Follow Nicholas Riccardi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NickRiccardi .