WASHINGTON — House Republicans are so wary of overhauling the nation’s immigration laws this year that only five are cosponsoring Rep. Mike Coffman’s bill to provide a path to citizenship for illegal aliens who serve in the U.S. military.
“I think the GOP is still very cautious of doing anything on the issue,” said one Republican official.
Coffman echoed a similar assessment in a recent interview with The Colorado Observer after the House Republicans’ legislative retreat on Maryland’s eastern shore. Coffman said the caucus was divided on immigration reform and that its meeting on the topic did not go well.
“I would like to see some type of reform, so I’m not very optimistic,” Coffman said.
The Republican from Aurora who served in both the Gulf and Iraq Wars could just as easily have been referring to the shaky status of his own legislation, H.R. 435, the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act.
Two of the four House GOP backbenchers supporting the bill come from majority Hispanic districts – Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and David Valadao of California. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2012, is another cosponsor.
There are 11 Democratic supporters of the bill, but none of the Democrats or Republicans in the Colorado delegation has signed on as a cosponsor.
The slow walking of Coffman’s legislation comes despite the best efforts of the lawmaker and support from the House Republican leadership.
On Jan. 30, the last day of the House Republican retreat, Coffman rose from his seat at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, Md. to speak in favor of his bill. Although speakers at the closed-door session were permitted no more than one minute to address colleagues, Coffman reached them at a time when the topic of immigration reform was on their lips and ears.
That very day, House GOP leaders indicated their support for the substance of Coffman’s bill. In a one-page sheet “Standards for Immigration Reform,” the House leadership said it supported granting citizenship to children brought to this country illegally.
“For those who meet certain eligibility standards, and serve honorably in our military or attain a college degree, we will do just that,” Republican leaders said.
Coffman unveiled the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act last year and publicized the bill in local and national media.
“Most important, H.R. 435 provides a path to citizenship through military service, which gives recruits the ability to access all areas of military service including Officer Candidate School, special forces, military police, cyber-security and linguist jobs, among others,” Coffman wrote in a May op-ed for Politico.
“This open access to talent is highly beneficial not only to the recruits who can pursue military careers but to our armed services,” Coffman wrote.
If rank-and-file House Republicans are impressed, they don’t say it. Two Colorado Republican officials argue that passing an immigration reform bill in the House this year would jeopardize the party’s chances of winning back control of the U.S. Senate.
Republicans would need to win six seats in the upper chamber in November, and party strategists say that campaigning against Obamacare is a surer bet than immigration reform.