Issa vs. Labrador: Immigration Debate Is Fracturing The Republican Party

The immigration debate is revealing and exacerbating a fracture in the GOP between hard-liners in mostly white districts on one side and Southwest Republicans on the other.

Raul Labrador

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) told NPR that any immigration bill offering a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants will not make it through the Republican-controlled House. The coalition of Republicans who agree with Labrador could make life difficult for the national party, and especially in states on the Southern border.

"The people that came here illegally knowingly --- I don't think they should have a path to citizenship," said Labrador on NPR. "If you knowingly violated our law, you violated our sovereignty, I think we should normalize your status but we should not give you a pathway to citizenship."

Some of Labrador's colleagues are equally outspoken. Here is Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) on the the "toxicity" of putting a pathway to citizenship in a comprehensive immigration bill:

"Whatever else we disagree on, I think we can agree on that that's a more toxic and contentious issue -- ramming [through] full amnesty."

And the excellently named Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virg.):

"When [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] says there has to be a path to citizenship, I wonder whether he's serious about doing immigration reform."

Here is the problem for Republicans: for some of their party, their beliefs and their job security are part and parcel with taking a hard line on immigration. With immigration likely to be the biggest issue dealt with one way or another between now and the 2014 elections (when the three quoted Republicans and every other House member will be up for reelection), many Republicans have to be concerned with getting primaried from the right if they bend on immigration reform, and won't expect to be punished for their hard line.

Rep. Labrador's district, Idaho-1, is 92% white, 7% hispanic. Rep. Bachus' district, Alabama-6 is 89% white, 2% hispanic. Rep. Goodlatte's, Virginia-6, is 86% white, 2% hispanic (all stats from wikipedia). That's not to say none of the white people in their districts will disapprove of a hard line on immigration, but they are not in the same political situation as Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) who supports a pathway to citizenship, noting to the U.S. News, "We have to remember the 11 million people who are here are people." Issa's district, California-49, is just north of the border, and at the time of the 2010 election was 35% hispanic (redistricting may have shifted the border some, but the basic picture remains the same).

The self-preservation efforts of Labrador, Goodlatte and Bachus run counter to those of Issa, and other Republicans near the border. The nightmare scenario for Republicans is that Republicans can't shake the villain label in the immigration debate, and Democrats maintain their dominance of the Latino vote (which Obama won by a 50-point margin), and this gradually turns Arizona and Texas blue, while further solidifying them in Colorado, New Mexico and California.

Democrats have every reason to propose a pathway to citizenship as part of a comprehensive immigration package and watch the Republican party fracture over how to handle that.

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