The Senate and the White House have each had their turn. Now it’s up to the GOP-controlled House, the most volatile of the trio, to figure out an immigration plan.
Who are they? What are they working on? Members of both parties are keeping a tight lid on not just the substance of negotiations, but the group’s roster. While its makeup may change depending on how far to the left or right its final deal is, a few names have popped up reliably in talks with aides and media reports. And their history on immigration could offer hints of what’s to come.
First, the Republican side.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
Cuban-American Diaz-Balart, along with his brother, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), has been one of the steadiest voices for comprehensive immigration reform since President Bush’s failed attempt in 2007. He was one of the only Republicans in the House to vote for the DREAM Act in 2010, which would have provided a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. It ended up being blocked by Republicans in the Senate and is now expected to be folded into any comprehensive bill.
Diaz-Balart backed Romney in the Republican primaries despite his hardline stance on immigration, but publicly criticized his call for “self-deportation” of the undocumented population.
Rep. John Carter (R-TX)
Carter, one of two Texan Republicans in the group, is a good representative of the kind of Republicans reformers will need to win over to pass a bill. He’s a solid conservative who’s emphasized border security over legalizing undocumented immigrants, which he’s denounced in the past as “amnesty.” But these days, like many Republicans, he’s fine-tuning exactly what that word means in anticipation of a deal that grants, at the very least, some legal status for large swaths of the 11 million undocumented.
“If you define amnesty as ‘no matter what, you’ve got to go back,’ it’ll never happen,” he told the Dallas Morning News last week, discussing negotiations over reform.
Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX)
After immigration reform died in the Senate in 2007, border hawk Johnson told the San Antonio Express News that “hopefully this bill will never see the light of day again.”
Ironically enough, Johnson is now one of the members trying to dig reform back up again. Like Carter, Johnson’s rhetoric has hewed towards the hardline in the past. The immigration section of his website still leads with the following quote: “If you are here legally, you ought to be rewarded. If you are here illegally, you ought to be deported.”
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID)
Labrador may be the most important - and tenuous - member of the group. A former immigration attorney and tea party favorite, Labrador has emphatically called for an immigration bill, but also recently denounced legislation that would include a path to citizenship. Immigration activists say such a measure, which is a centerpiece of the Senate and White House plans, is a must for any bill. If Labrador sticks to his guns and takes conservative members with him, the prospects for a final deal could be bleak.
And the Democrats:
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL)
Gutierrez is the most outspoken progressive voice in the mix and a longtime advocate for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants - one of whom was his guest at the State of the Union on Tuesday. He left the House Financial Services Committee this year to join the Judiciary Committee instead, which handles immigration, in anticipation of upcoming legislative battles.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Like Labrador, Lofgren used to be an immigration attorney. As the top ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, Lofgren will be front and center crafting a bill, just as she was during the failed 2007 immigration debate. During the first House hearing on immigration reform this month, Lofgren defended the importance of putting immigrants on track for permanent residency and eventually citizenship, warning that only partial legalization would create a “permanent underclass.”
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
The chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Becerra recently declared that the bipartisan group was “on the cusp” of reaching a deal. He described their broad approach as “very simple” to reporters last week.
“Gotta have safety at our borders,” he said. “We’re a sovereign nation, gotta protect our borders. Make sure the workplace doesn’t become a magnet for folks to be hired without the authorization. And then let’s be realistic and sensible about how we approach all those folks who made America their home, established businesses, have children who have gone on to be valedictorians at their high school - and let’s do these things in a very sensible way.”
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY)
A former newspaper editor and columnist, Yarmuth has publicly called for a comprehensive immigration package along the lines of the Senate’s framework, with a special emphasis on border security. He also defended President Obama’s decision to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation via executive order.
“Young people who came to the United States through no choice of their own, and who have abided by our laws, should have the opportunity to stay here, use the education this country has provided, and become productive members of our society,” he told the Louisville Courier-Journal at the time.
This post has been updated.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.