Rep. Raúl R. Labrador said Tuesday that Democrats’ insistence on a pathway to citizenship could kill comprehensive immigration reform but that Republicans could be persuaded to support legalization.
The Idaho Republican said there is a key political distinction between legislation that would offer illegal immigrants already in the U.S. a path to citizenship versus one that offers them a path to legalized status. Labrador conceded that conservative critics would likely label legalization as “amnesty,” a charge that has derailed previous attempts at passing immigration reform. But the congressman, a conservative stalwart on most issues, suggested the policy would sell with voters back home.
“Anything we do is going to be called amnesty by any number of people. The reality is that we have to do something about the people that are here; we’ve got to figure out how to do it fairly, so we can solve the immigration problem,” said Labrador, who practiced immigration law for 15 years. “You’re going to get a majority of Republicans to support something that does something fair.”
Labrador, a thorn in the side of GOP leaders on many fiscal issues, is a member of a bipartisan House working group that is attempting to develop a consensus position on immigration reform. His comments on legalization came the same day that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., signaled his support for legalizing illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and raised as Americans — a policy move considered significant.
Labrador, who hails from among the most conservative districts in the country, was elected to the House in 2010 after winning an upset victory in the GOP primary. He said House Republicans oppose a path to citizenship in part because their constituents believe illegal immigrants should not be rewarded for breaking the law. Additionally, conservatives contend that anything that functions as amnesty would encourage more illegal border crossings.
But Labrador said addressing the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country is the only way to solve the problem and modernize the immigration system. The congressman said legalization is sufficient, based on his experience practicing immigration law. He said most of his clients wanted help achieving legal status and that fewer were interested in citizenship.
“Anybody who’s clamoring for citizenship, they’re looking for voters and they’re looking for union members. They’re not looking to help the people that are here illegally. They’re looking for a political solution — they’re not looking for a policy that actually strengthens the United States,” Labrador said.