WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. David Valadao says he’s not worried that Congress’ failure to pass immigration legislation will hurt his prospects for re-election to a district in California’s agricultural heartland. Same goes for GOP Rep. Jeff Denham, who represents a neighboring district in the state’s San Joaquin Valley.
Still, the California congressmen are making sure voters know they support an immigration overhaul. They’re aware that Democrats will try to turn the congressional gridlock into an advantage during this year’s midterm elections.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $300,000 on television ads in Valadao’s district, noting that he is the son of immigrants. Denham highlights an award he received from the nation’s largest Latino advocacy group for “putting sound immigration policy over party politics.” He was the first Republican co-sponsor of a sweeping immigration bill now stalled in the House.
“People have seen I’ve shown real leadership in driving this issue forward,” Denham said.
Sounding a lot like Democrats, some Republican members of California’s congressional delegation are making the case that changing the law is necessary to help farmers and businesses and to keep families together. But they also are members of a party that has stifled immigration-overhaul efforts, providing a political opening for Democrats in a state where immigrants are a crucial underpinning of the economy.
A recent national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that about 7 in 10 Hispanics say it’s important that new immigration legislation pass this year. And a California Field Poll last year found that 9 in 10 California voters support allowing immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally to stay and become citizens if they work, learn English and pay back taxes.
Valadao, Denham and about a dozen other Republican lawmakers nationally are in districts that have a sizeable and growing Latino population. Latinos make up more than half of the registered voters in Valadao’s district and about a quarter in Denham’s.
Immigration also could play a role in a handful of open seats around the country, including those in Southern California now held by outgoing Republican Reps. Gary Miller and Buck McKeon.
Latino voters make up a third of the electorate in Miller’s district, and 1 in 5 voters in McKeon’s. Democrats have made both seats a priority.