District Demographics, Ideology Influence Lawmakers’ Immigration Views

July 12, 2013
Gardner said he hopes the House will pass border-security legislation before the August recess

Gardner said he hopes the House will pass border-security legislation before the August recess

WASHINGTON — Whether it was a coincidence or not, the first two U.S. Representatives from Colorado who stepped inside a House GOP caucus meeting on overhauling the nation’s immigration laws on Wednesday represent districts with large Hispanic populations.

Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez was the first to emerge from a windowless corridor underneath the Capitol to walk into HC-5, the gathering spot for more than 200 House Republicans. Tipton’s vast, mountainous district in southwestern Colorado is 24 percent Hispanic, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Up next was Rep. Cory Gardner of Yuma. Gardner’s district in the eastern plains of the state is 22 percent Latino.

After Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs filed in to the meeting, Rep. Mike Coffman stepped in. Coffman’s district in the northern Denver suburbs is 20 percent Hispanic.

The conventional wisdom is that many House Republicans resist a path to citizenship for undocumented workers because few of their constituents are Hispanic.  Yet this explanation does not account for the positions of Tipton and Gardner on how best to address illegal immigration.

Each member represents a district with a Hispanic population that exceeds or is the same as a typical House Democrat, according to the website latinodecisions.com. In separate interviews, each emphasized border security rather than providing amnesty or a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

“There’s really no border-security plan or policy to achieve what they want with the numbers and dollar figures they are throwing around. I think it puts legalization first and border security later,” Gardner said of legislation the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate approved June 28.

“You know, I think the first thing we need to do is to take control of the border, and I have said this in Pueblo as well as Grand Junction,” Tipton said before the two-hour meeting Wednesday.

David Wasserman, a political expert on the House for the Cook Political Report, indicated that the political ideology of white voters in a congressional district “is a much better indicator of member behavior on immigration than a district’s Hispanic share, and that’s true all over the country.”

A comparison between Tipton and Democratic Rep. Jared Polis is instructive. Tipton’s district has a larger share of Hispanics (24.2 to 20.3) and a smaller share of whites than Polis’ Boulder-based district (71.6 to 72.4). Yet Tipton adopts a conservative stand on citizenship, while Polis is a liberal.

Tipton and Gardner did not rule out voting for legal status for the 11 million people who entered the country illegally or have overstayed their visas.  Instead, they kept the idea at arm’s length.

Tipton said many illegal immigrants may not want to become U.S. citizens.

“Did you know that 40 percent of those who received amnesty in the 1986 immigration law never completed the forms to become citizens? That’s why we have guest-worker plans,” Tipton said.

Gardner, who spoke at the caucus meeting, said he hopes the Republican-controlled House will pass a border-security provision before the lower chamber goes on recess in August.

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