In what might be considered a politically provocative step, Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) has become the first and lone Republican to co-sponsor an immigration reform bill that could provide millions of immigrants a pathway to attaining citizenship.
While Denham is the first Republican in the House of Representatives to cosponsor the bipartisan bill, H.R. 15, he remains hopeful that other Republican colleagues will soon follow his lead. The bill currently has 185 Democrats signed on.
"I'm the first Republican to sign on, but I expect others to sign on in the next few days," said Rep. Denham during a telephone press conference. "The time is now to get it done, and I'm looking forward to not only working with Republicans, but across the aisle. It will only work if we work together to get this done."
Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), a chief sponsor of the new House legislation, said that he and fellow House Democrats are looking forward to working alongside Denham to bring a focus to immigration reform.
"All the Republicans that we talked to asked us where Denham stood on this," said Rep. Garcia. "He's a leader on this issue. I appreciate Denham's courage here because this is not an easy thing...Slowly but surely we're headed in the right direction."
With the current Congressional session soon wrapping up, some far-right conservative members have attempted to delay addressing immigration reform, saying there is not enough time to debate the issue this year. Denham, however, says that he is working diligently to hold discussions with such members in an effort to bring immigration reform to the forefront.
"I'm very mindful that there are a few Republicans that have said pretty outrageous things about immigration reform," said Rep. Denham. "There are some colleagues of mine that have concerning things to say, and I have discussions with them on the issue...If we can all agree this is a problem then we all need to be responsible leaders and come up with a solution."
Immigration reform has continually been a key issue amongst Denham's 10th Congressional District constituents, as he represents an area heavily-populated with immigrants.
Adriana Hernandez, a leader with the PICO California federation Congregations Building Community in Modesto, said that according to a recent survey in Denham's district, 58 percent of Republicans support immigration reform.
"The time is now to provide the 11 million aspiring citizens with an earned pathway to American citizenship," said Hernandez. "[Denham]'s courage to cosponsor this bill means a lot to me and even more to the families who continue to be broken apart due to a broken immigration system."
Although some view Denham's decision to cosponsor the Democratic-supported immigration bill as a positive step in working across party lines, congressional candidate Michael Eggman (D-Turlock) says it is merely a "convenient diversion" from Denham's recent vote opposing reopening the government following a 16-day shutdown.
"No one who has followed the path of career politician Jeff Denham should be surprised that he has once again changed his position on an important issue. This time it is immigration," said Eggman in a released statement. "Unfortunately, Denham has waited until immigration reform is all but dead before offering his support. Supporting immigration reform may be a convenient diversion from his reckless and irresponsible vote to keep the government shutdown and let our country default on our debt, but it does little to nothing to resurrect a bill that his own Republican leadership killed."
H.R. 15, otherwise known as The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, was proposed by House Democrats on Oct. 2 and is largely based on the Senate bill that passed by a vote of 68-32 in June.
The House bill, however, removes the Corker-Hoeven Border Security Amendment, replacing it with the House Border Security Plan, H.R. 1417, also known as the McCaul Bill that was unanimously approved by the House Homeland Security Committee in May.
The McCaul Bill requires regular reports on surveillance and control over the borders by the Department of Homeland Security, who must also: utilize technology to gain situational awareness and produce metrics to measure progress and accountability; include efforts to assess control over illegal entries; create a plan to implement a biometric entry-exit system at ports of entry immediately, or an alternate plan that will provide the same level of security.
"This bill really focuses on outcomes, and it makes border security a requirement, not a goal," said Rep. Denham. "The Senate version is never going to get a vote on the House floor because there were border security issues with it. I strongly believe that the best solution will be conferencing the two houses together and working out any differences."
Aside from a more measured approach to border security, the House bill also includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants including Denham's ENLIST Act, which allows qualified undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship by serving honorably in the U.S. military.
Other Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have suggested a piecemeal approach that would involve a series of immigration bills rather than a comprehensive bill - an approach Rep. Denham finds unfavorable.
"I think the House has a job to do, and I'm going to focus on the House getting that job done," said Rep. Denham. "If we focus on one aspect at a time, without all other aspects, it won't move our country forward but instead could have a detrimental effect to long-term immigration reform. I'm very concerned about a step-by-step approach or piecemeal approach as I'm concerned about the timing of that...It's critical that we discuss all aspects of immigration in this process so that we strengthen our hand going into conference.
"Not all will want citizenship, and not all will earn it," said Rep. Denham. "But a path is crucial for them."