Republican Rep. Jeff Denham will break with his party and back a broad immigration reform proposal supported by Democrats.
The California congressman told Univision that he would become the first Republican co-sponsor of an immigration bill written by House Democrats that would bolster border security and provide a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
“Yes, I will be the first Republican coming together on this full bill dealing with all aspects of immigration,” he told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos in Spanish during an interview that will air on “Al Punto” this Sunday.
“It’s about coming up with a solution that’s bipartisan; Republicans and Democrats coming together,” he added.
Denham’s move puts him at odds with House GOP leaders who have said they would not consider bringing the bill to the floor for a vote. Democrats, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), introduced the proposal in a bid to pressure House Republicans to act on the issue.
Unlike most of his Republican colleagues, Denham represents a heavily Latino district. Over 40 percent of residents in his Central Valley district are Latino. The congressman has been one of a handful of GOP members of the House to back a full pathway to citizenship.
“I’m going to continue to encourage more and more Republicans to come on board,” Denham said.
The proposal largely mirrors a broad overhaul passed by the Senate in June. But it includes a border-security bill written by House Republicans in an effort to entice them to back the measure. But before Denham’s announcement, all of the bill’s 184 co-sponsors were Democrats.
“We know that there are a number of Republicans in the House who are ready to vote for a comprehensive reform of our immigration system,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said during a press conference on Oct. 2. “We want to give them a chance to see that Democrats are serious about reaching out to them.”
Denham’s decision adds to the growing pressure on House Republican leaders to move on immigration reform before the year is up. Another GOP congressman, Joe Heck (Nev.), ripped leaders this week for the stalemate over immigration in the House. And around 600 people representing business, law enforcement, and religious groups are traveling to Washington next week to lobby GOP members to back reform.
House GOP leaders have taken a go-slow approach to immigration, preferring to deal with the issue through a series of smaller bills. But so far, no bill has received a vote on the House floor and there are only 19 planned legislative days left this year.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he would not bring an immigration bill to the floor unless it has support from a majority of Republicans. But advocates have pressured Boehner to abandon that strategy and use Democrats, and a smaller group of Republicans, to pass a bill that can become law.
"Mr. Denham has shown his courage," Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), an author of the bill, told Ramos in a separate interview. "We only need 30 additional Republicans and for Mr. Boehner to save his party from a very dark future if they’re not part of the answer."
Boehner said last week that he’s “hopeful” that the House can address immigration reform this year. Denham said that action could occur as soon as November.
“We have a commitment from leadership that we are going to have full hearings as well as a floor debate coming up in the next month or so,” he said. “So this solution needs to be part of that.”
Denham told Ramos that he decided to support the Democrats’ bill after authors agreed to include a bipartisan bill he helped write that would offer undocumented youth a pathway to citizenship if they serve in the military.
The California congressman admitted his decision to back a Democratic bill is controversial, but said that his overarching goal goal is to get immigration reform passed.
“Yes, it’s risky. We will get hit from the left and the right, and there will be a lot of different media that portrays us in different ways in our districts,” he said. “But what is right for the American people and our economy should be the focus on the entire Congress.”
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.