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In House, Signs of Openness on Immigration

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Gowdy said people in his district are suspicious about immigration policy changes that might not include strong enforcement provisions.

In South Carolina, it’s a good sign you’re among conservatives when the founder of RINO Hunt — “RINO” being short for Republicans In Name Only, of course — is there.

Rep. Trey Gowdy said he was at such a meeting of tea party activists in his district Tuesday, dominated by talk of the new Senate immigration framework. He called the conversation “extraordinarily civil.”

At that meeting and another event, a question-and-answer session about the Constitution, Gowdy said that while conservatives in his district are suspicious about whether an immigration bill would include serious enforcement provisions, it’s a different conversation from the last time immigration was seriously on the table in 2007.

“I would feel comfortable trying to make the argument in my district that real border security and real employment verification should lead us to a real genuine conversation about legal status,” Gowdy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, said.

A colleague of Gowdy’s senses the same sort of civility when talks turns to immigration.

“A lot of the freshman from 2010, what you guys call the tea party class, are actually very interested in immigration reform. They’re people who really want to do something about it. And I think it’s mostly because we didn’t get the bruising of the last immigration fight,” said Idaho Republican Rep. Raúl Labrador.

“There’s a lot of good will in the conservative wing of the party in the House of Representatives to getting something done on this issue,” he added.

A key factor behind the change is political reality, since Republicans are trying to make inroads with Hispanic voters and some strategists believe helping pass an immigration overhaul bill could aid in that larger effort. The leadership of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., an otherwise staunch conservative who has walked out on a limb in joining the Senate group, is a major factor. And Gowdy cited that evangelical Christian groups have embraced immigration reform as spurring some conservatives to re-evaulate their stances on the matter.

However, Gowdy’s and Labrador’s sentiments aren’t quite reason to think the House will pass a big comprehensive bill like the one the bipartisan Senate group is talking about.

Mark Krikorian, who heads the Center for Immigration Studies, said that opposition is bound to spike when the Senate puts its framework into legislative text, exposing loopholes. “The reason there isn’t alarm is because a lot of them have been expecting something like this,” he said.

Krikorian expects the House to take up a smaller package, something like a “slimmed down version of the DREAM Act combined with mandatory e-Verify.”

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