BY JILL REPOGLE NOVEMBER 4, 2013
Southern California Congressman Darrell Issa is rumored to be cooking up his own immigration reform proposal. It’s reportedly designed to find some middle ground in the contentious debate over providing legal status to the more than 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.
Issa’s district stretches along the coast from UC San Diego in La Jolla to southern Orange County. The district leans heavily Republican: Issa won the 2012 election with a 16-point lead.
Issa’s constituents are mostly white and largely affluent. Still, Issa isn’t immune to the demographic changes taking place throughout California and the nation. About one-quarter of Issa’s district is Latino, and close to 50 percent of his hometown of Vista is now Latino.
Polls have shown that the majority of Latinos want immigration reform with a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.
The details of Issa’s plan for immigration reform are still scarce, and his office didn’t respond to numerous requests for an interview. But the plan would reportedly include a six-year period of temporary relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants.
During that time, they would be expected to find a legal way to stay here or leave.
Issa told Politico it’s “halfway between full amnesty and simply rejecting people.”
But some of Issa’s staunchly conservative constituents say that approach is too soft.
“This whole subject to me right now is about the rule of law,” said Patricia Newman, who manages her husband’s medical practice in Vista.
Newman is Mexican-American, and she thinks the government should make it easier for immigrants to come here legally. But she’s suspicious that Issa’s proposal would reward those who haven’t followed the rules, and encourage others to keep coming here illegally.
She said the Republican Party was compromising its ideals in exchange for votes.
“I really think that’s what they’re doing,” Newman said, a stylized portrait of Ronald Reagan looking down at her from her office wall.
“They’re just considering all these things just so they can get new votes. I don’t think they’re thinking it through.”
But Republicans like Issa are facing pressure from business and faith leaders — and even some GOP donors — to take action on immigration reform.
The Vista Chamber of Commerce recently joined state and national business groups in endorsing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents. They also want a temporary worker program for high and low-skilled workers, and strong border security.
“We also have businesses that have had tangible difficulties bringing talent in from outside the country when they needed people,” said Bret Schanzenbach, CEO of the Vista Chamber.
Political scientists warn the Republican party risks becoming irrelevant if it can’t appeal to the country’s growing Latino population. That warning hasn’t seemed to hold much weight for Republican congress members in districts with few Latino voters.
But the political calculations are different for Republican leaders. That likely includes Issa, saidTom Wong, a political science professor at UC San Diego.
“He not only is concerned about his electoral survival, but with eyes towards higher office, he also has to be concerned with the Republican brand as a whole and how that’s perceived nationally,” Wong said.
Several other Republican congress members have recently signed on to the House Democrats’ immigration reform bill, which includes a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.
Wong said Issa’s halfway plan could help propel a real discussion on the issue among the Republican caucus.
But time is quickly running out this year to get that discussion going.