A Message from the Rank-and-File?

In a surprising turnaround after years of opposition to any kind of immigration reform, House GOP members are showing a surprising level of support for the idea of legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country – precisely the issue that has derailed so many previous attempts to reform our immigration system. As we noted last month, a leading conservative publication, The Weekly Standard, took the trouble of compiling the public pronouncements of House GOP members who have spoken out on immigration reform, and found that 84 of them support granting some kind of legal status to undocumented immigrants, while another 20 members say they’d consider it. [See Weekly Standard: 84 House GOP Members Favor “Legalizing” the Undocumented, MurthyBlog, 11.Oct.2013.]

Hard to say whether it betokens an end to the partisan logjam on immigration reform, or just the mounting frustration of moderate House Republicans, but as of this writing, three GOP representatives have signed on to H.R. 15, the bipartisan CIR bill that was introduced by House Democrats in October. [See Keeping Up the Pressure: House Democrats Introduce Immigration Reform Bill, MurthyBlog, 15.Oct.2013.] The members include Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Rep. David Valadao (R-CA). [See Third House Republican Signs on to Immigration Reform Bill, by Elise Foley, Huffington Post, 30.Oct.2013.]

At this writing, the measure has 189 co-sponsors – still “short of the 218 needed to get a majority of the House,” as the Huffington Post‘s Elise Foley points out. [For current co-sponsors, see H.R.15 – Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, Congress.gov.]

Given Speaker Boehner’s custom of invoking the Hastert Rule, under which he will only bring a bill to the floor if a majority of his caucus supports it, even with a few GOP co-sponsors, H.R. 15 is unlikely to be brought up before the full House for a vote. Still, we should not underestimate the symbolic value of this gesture: when members begin to break ranks and sign onto bipartisan legislation, it sends a powerful message to the House leadership, essentially: we want immigration reform, and we’re tired of waiting.

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