Denham reform has eye on area

Immigration push changed to appeal to Latino voters

mdoyle@mcclatchydc.comAugust 1, 2013 

Elias Funez/efunez@modbee.com U.S. representative Jeff Denham listens to the concerns of those speaking at Tuesday's (04-02-13) immigration reform meeting held in the sanctuary of St. Stanislaus Catholic church in Modesto.

ELIAS FUNEZ — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textMichael Doyle
    Title: National correspondent
    Bio: Michael joined the McClatchy Washington Bureau in 1988 and writes stories from Washington for The Bee. He's a graduate of Oberlin College, and earned a master of studies in law from Yale Law School, where he was a Knight Journalism Fellow. He also earned a masters in government from The Johns Hopkins University.
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— Immigration matters more than ever to Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, as the conservative California lawmaker adjusts to a San Joaquin Valley district with a large Latino population.

On Thursday, Denham stepped up his noteworthy drumbeat by joining a Democratic colleague in calling for a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

The call echoed similar exhortations Denham made in a closed-door session with his fellow GOP lawmakers, many of whom are skeptical about far-reaching immigration legislation but few of whom outside of California represent districts with a similar ethnic profile.

"This is how things are supposed to be done, on a bipartisan basis," Denham said Thursday at a Capitol Hill briefing. He added that "we're here to talk about a top-to-bottom approach."

His ally, Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Panorama City, used the term "comprehensive immigration reform" in speaking to a standing-room-only audience of about 100 staffers, reporters and others. Denham preferred the phrase "top to bottom." Both terms mean combining border security, internal immigration enforcement, improved visa and guest worker programs and some form of legalization for immigrants already in the country.

"Securing the border has to come first," Denham said, "but it has to be part of a top-to-bottom approach." Pointedly, Denham added that "we need to be looking at earned legal status" for those currently in the country illegally, and he said "the Senate has made great progress in this area."

In June, the Senate approved by a 68-32 margin a major immigration package that included a path to citizenship expected to take at least 13 years. In a nod to Republicans, the Senate added multibillion-dollar provisions calling for 20,000 additional Border Patrol officers and other border control provisions.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has targeted Denham, dismissed his news event Thursday as "grandstanding." DCCC spokesman Matt Inzeo said Denham should "spend his time convincing the leaders of his broken Republican Congress to hold a vote on comprehensive immigration reform."

House Republican leaders have indicated they won't take up the entire Senate bill. Instead, after the August congressional recess that starts next week, the House will take up a series of bills. One, for instance, would require a nationwide employer verification system. Another would boost border security.

House GOP sharply divided

House Republicans are sharply divided over how far to go, and the caucus that has struggled to pass normally routine measures such as a farm bill and annual appropriations bills faces more deep-seated challenges on immigration.

"There are a few people who want to be very, very extreme," Cardenas said.

The loudest Republican voice on immigration issues, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, represents a district where 6 percent of the residents are counted as Hispanic. King's comments have occasionally dismayed his fellow Republicans, as when he recently denounced a Senate bill that offers a path to citizenship for immigrants in this country illegally, including those who entered as schoolchildren.

"For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another hundred out there who weigh a hundred and thirty pounds, and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling seventy-five pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act," King told Newsmax, a conservative news and opinion outlet, in a July 18 interview.

The 10th Congressional District now represented by Denham encompasses roughly 713,000 residents of Stanislaus County and part of San Joaquin County. Forty percent are counted as Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau.

Denham's district is not entirely unique. His freshman Republican colleague, Rep. David Valadao of Hanford, represents a district where Hispanic residents make up 72 percent of all residents. Forty-five percent of the constituents represented by veteran Republican Rep. Devin Nunes are counted as Hispanic.

Outside of California, though, Republican-dominated congressional districts often have small La-tino populations. On average, according to a tally by analyst Nate Silver, Latinos account for 11 percent of the residents of GOP-represented House districts. That's less than half the average for Democratic districts. Though such demographics are not necessarily the same as political destiny, they can definitely play a role in shaping viewpoints.

Denham said he expects the House to take up in the fall legislation addressing the population of immigrants who entered the United States illegally while children. He further said he expects this bill to include a measure he has introduced, offering a path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants who serve in the U.S. military.

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