Weekly Standard: 84 House GOP Members Favor “Legalizing” the Undocumented

Supporters of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the possibility that the House might take up some form of immigration reform legislation when the storm clears from the fiscal and budget crises that began earlier this month. Ever since the Senate CIR bill passed in June, immigration reform has been in limbo, awaiting action from a House of Representatives with many other priorities on its agenda.

Time is running out for those still hoping to get an immigration bill to the President’s desk before the first session of the 113th Congress adjourns in December. That said, there is still a degree of guarded optimism that an immigration deal could be worked out before year’s end.

The Senate bill is already heavy on border-enforcement provisions, and these are not likely to be controversial among House GOP members, except to the extent that some may try to tighten them further, or provide additional funding for border security. The real obstacle to an immigration deal is the perennial one: how to handle the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in this country. The Senate bill would provide a difficult, but doable, path to citizenship, but a sizeable chunk of the House GOP majority still finds this idea objectionable.

Why does this matter? Because House Speaker John Boehner has made a habit of invoking the Hastert Rule, named for the former House Speaker, Dennis Hastert (R-IL), which insists that no bill be brought to the House floor for a vote unless it can pass with a majority of the majority party – the Republicans. There are 232 Republicans in Mr. Boehner’s caucus, ergo, 117 GOP members would be needed to reach the tipping point.

How close is the House GOP to reaching the magic number? A leading conservative journal, The Weekly Standard, recently counted the number of GOP members whose public pronouncements indicate – either expressly or by strong implication – a willingness to support some form of legalization for undocumented immigrants. The results were surprising: The Weekly Standard found 84 House GOP members who believe in granting some kind of legal status to undocumented immigrants, and 20 more members who said they’d consider it. In other words, there may be as many as 104 House Republicans who – theoretically – might support a path to legal status, if not a path to citizenship. [See 84 House Republicans Support Legalizing Undocumeted Workers, by Maria Santos, The Weekly Standard, 30.Sep.2013.]

Several GOP members on the list support some form of legalization, due to concerns about the morality and/or practicality of arresting and deporting 11 million people. Economic arguments also play a role, according to The Weekly Standard: “They’re listening to farmers and businessmen, who don’t want to lose their workers. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) told constituents, ‘Here’s the dirty little secret: We need them. We need them in agriculture.'”

Alongside the growing recognition of our economic dependency on undocumented immigrant labor – particularly in agriculture and construction – there is mounting interest in providing these workers with legal status that will enable them to continue doing the work we depend on them to do. That said, there is substantially less agreement on the specifics of how this should be achieved. Some of the 84 members who support legalization mean “providing a path to citizenship,” while others call for a grant of some yet-to-be-defined legal status that does not include citizenship, and yet another group waffles on the issue, apparently open to citizenship for the undocumented, but not a “special path,” whatever that means.

The Weekly Standard article provides a fascinating compilation of the public pronouncements of the 104 House GOP members who might support a path to citizenship – or some legal status short of that. Best of all, the article allows you to parse through their statements to make your own assessment of which way each member is leaning. Perhaps what’s most interesting: there appears to be a broader basis for a potential compromise on CIR than is generally acknowledged, but as always, the devil will be in the details.

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