3 Republicans Sign Onto Democratic Immigration Bill

Activists gathered on the National Mall earlier this month to press for a comprehensive immigration overhaul. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. David Valado is the third House Republican in four days to sign on to co-sponsor a Democratic comprehensive immigration bill.

While the House isn't likely to take up that measure, Republicans signaling support for such legislation could pressure leadership to address the issue.

On Wednesday, the California Republican became the latest GOP lawmaker to co-sponsor the Democrats' bill, which is similar to a bipartisan measure creating a pathway to citizenship that passed the Senate earlier this year. Republican Jeff Denham of California was the first to attach his name to the bill sponsored by Florida Democrat Joe Garcia. On Tuesday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said she would back the legislation.

While Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has privately and publicly committed to moving immigration legislation in a piecemeal fashion only, Republicans showing support for a Democratic bill could pressure GOP leaders to do more than the border security bill sponsored by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas.

Right now, however, it seems Boehner faces more pressure from the right to not bring up a comprehensive immigration bill than he does to address a pathway to citizenship. That could change if more Republicans sign on to the Garcia bill.

“I mean basically because we have to do something. Just ignoring the problem is not a solution. Pushing it off for one more year is not a solution," Denham said.

Denham said one reason he signed onto the Garcia's bill is because Democrats agreed to make changes he suggested. "They took the amendments that I asked them to take. Hard not to support a bill when they take the amendments you ask them to take,” he added.

Chief among those amendments was the McCaul bill, which requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop a strategy for gaining operational control of U.S. borders in two years.

The Garcia bill is largely an amalgamation of the Senate-passed immigration bill and McCaul's bill.

With the McCaul bill added, Democrats are hoping more Republicans will sign on, particularly the ones who support a more comprehensive overhaul of immigration.

On Tuesday, Ros-Lehtinen issued a statement explaining her nascent support for the Democratic bill.

"It's important to keep the conversation going in trying to fix the broken immigration system," Ros-Lehtinen said. "I favor any approach that will help us move the negotiations forward. Other members may soon produce a bipartisan product that may also deserve support and I'm cautiously optimistic that we can pass meaningful immigration reform."

That seems to be Valadao's position, too.

“I have been working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find common ground on the issue of immigration reform," Valadao said Wednesday. "Recently, I have focused my efforts on joining with like-minded Republicans in organizing and demonstrating to Republican leadership broad support within the party to address immigration reform in the House by the end of the year."

Valadao added that by supporting the Democratic bill, “I am strengthening my message: Addressing immigration reform in the House cannot wait."

On Monday, Valadao told CQ Roll Call that while he supported a pathway to citizenship in any immigration overhaul effort, he was not quite ready to co-sponsor the Democratic bill.

At the time, Valadao hinted that his co-sponsorship was "a possibility, but obviously the strategy in the House right now is the piecemeal approach, so I have to focus on what's actually possible here."

On Tuesday  — the eve of Valadao's announcement — Denham told CQ Roll Call that he was still in talks with Valadao about how to persuade fellow members of the GOP to come out in favor of legalization language. Denham said that Valadao was taking the lead on gathering House Republican signatures on a letter calling for leadership to bring to the floor immigration overhaul legislation with a pathway to citizenship provision attached.

"I think there are members who are not willing to sign onto this bill that feel that a pathway to citizenship is still important," Denham explained, saying that he expected to have "a lot" of signatures for Valadao's letter ready to deliver to leaders by next week. He suggested he might have around 50 signatories.