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Immigration Overhaul Emissaries Wait in House

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Raúl R. Labrador is seen as a natural to be involved with an immigration overhaul.

“I can’t discuss that,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, the ranking Democrat on the immigration subcommittee, said when asked about the working group Nov. 30. “It’s not a secret that there have been confidential discussions, [but] if I discuss it, they will no longer be confidential.”

Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, also declined to comment on the size of the working group or whether he serves on it. Labrador spent 15 years as an immigration attorney before being elected to the House in 2010 with tea party support. He is seen by some advocacy groups as a natural choice to take a more public role on immigration, and he confirmed in an interview that he would seek to do so next year.

“I’ve been doing this behind the scenes for two years, and now obviously it’s a golden opportunity to start being a little more public about it,” Labrador said. He added that he “would love” to join the Judiciary Committee next year, “but we’ll see what happens.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., is also considered a potential leader on immigration for his party and is widely believed to be part of the House working group. Diaz-Balart said in a Nov. 16 statement that he “has restarted the process of moving a comprehensive immigration bill through Congress as soon as possible” and that he “has been meeting with his colleagues from both political parties.”

In choosing their emissaries on immigration, House Republicans must walk a fine line between retaining their conservative policy preferences and doing more to reach out to Latino voters, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama in November. New Republican voices on immigration are likely to emerge from closely contested House districts where Latinos represent a growing share of the electorate, said Angela Maria Kelley of the liberal Center for American Progress.

“I think that’s where you would get the list of Republicans who are going to be sweating bullets and biting their nails over this issue,” she said.

But Kelley and others also said House leaders, led by Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., ultimately will drive the negotiations, even though lower-ranking members may gain prominence during the debate.

“I think the real conversation among Republicans on this issue is not going to happen in the public eye of a Judiciary subcommittee hearing or markup. The real debate is going to happen behind closed doors,” Kelley said. “It’s at such a high level.”

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