Below is the eighth article in the series, “Immigration Reform Summer,” by Gebe Martinez, Advisor to America’s Voice Education Fund. This article is available for reprint as long as the author is given proper attribution. View other posts in the series here.
A congregation-based group, including 11 tired and sunburned immigration reform activists who are marching 285 miles through California’s Central Valley, got the “yes,” answers they wanted Friday from Republican Rep. Jeff Denham.
Does he support a pathway to citizenship? “Yes,” Denham answered at a forum in Patterson, CA, sponsored by PICO California and Congregations Building Community.
Would he ask GOP House leaders, particularly House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy in nearby Bakersfield, for a House vote on citizenship?
“Yes. I have, I will, I will continue to do it,” Denham said again, adding that Democrats, who have worked for years on an immigration measure should “bring that bill to the floor because I would like to support that one too. It’s got to be Republicans and Democrats working together.”
How should canvassers knocking on voters’ doors explain his position?
“I don’t know that I can be any more clear. We need a top to bottom approach. We need to address all aspects of immigration. You can’t just fix the border without having internal security, and without making sure that the 11 million that are here today are able to earn legal status and citizenship,” the Republican lawmaker said.
The standing room only crowd at Sacred Heart Catholic Church chanted “Sí se puede,” and “Yes we can,” after each of Denham’s answers.
His responses at the accountability session were not surprising, as he has hinted his position to news reporters in recent days and has been meeting with PICO leaders for months. His district is 40% Latino and was won by President Obama in 2012 and Denham often notes his father-in-law is a naturalized citizen from Mexico.
Still, the GOP lawmaker’s public, full-throated support for a broad bill with an earned path to citizenship is important, given his own position has evolved ahead of his party leaders in the House and at the Republican National Committee, which rejected the proposal earlier Friday.
Denham was one of only six Republicans to vote in June against a provision by immigration restrictionist Rep. Steve King, R-IA, to block funds for the Obama administration program that temporarily halts deportations of young “DREAMers” who were brought to the U.S. as children. However, Denham also has a bill, ENLIST Act, which would offer legal permanent resident status — not citizenship — to the DREAMers.
Now, in this summer of immigration reform, as advocates increase pressure on the House to support citizenship to help keep families together — the Senate already passed a bill — Denham is part of a growing number of the rank-and-file favoring a vote on the proposal.
“This can only be done if we can ensure that we won’t make the same mistakes again and we can actually fix our immigration system,” Denham said, referring to past attempts that failed to adequately address visa programs and other issues.
“I want to fix this. We have to fix this. We can’t allow either party to have any more excuses,” Denham said. “We need both parties to come together. Take the politics out. We will have an election next year. This is about fixing our immigration system once and for all.”
To succeed, Denham and like-minded Republicans must convince Boehner, McCarthy and other House leaders to quit stalling.
“It’s going to take the entire faith-based community across the entire nation to meet with Republicans and Democrats,” Denham suggested to the PICO congregation.
The message already is being delivered to McCarthy by the 11-member “Pilgrimage for a Pathway to Citizenship,” which began its trek in Sacramento on Monday and will finish on Sept. 2 at McCarthy’s office in Bakersfield.
The 11 walkers represent the 11 million and include citizens, DREAMers and parents who are often referred to as the “original DREAMers.”
“We are representing all of our brothers and sisters who are still afraid to speak out,” said Enrique Bravo, who is marching with his wife, Vicky. The southern California residents are undocumented.
“When the people speak, the politicians have to listen,” said one of the marchers, Gonzalo F. Santos, 63, who is a sociologist at Cal State in Bakersfield. He urged politicians to embrace the human capital offered by the 11 million, “not persecuted, not tear it apart, not destroy it in a fit of paranoia and xenophobia, but actually create a more perfect union.”