A group of hardline conservative members of the House are coming out in favor of immigration reform, writing in a letter to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) dated March 21 that they support his efforts to negotiate a comprehensive bill.
“We write to offer you support, encouragement, and assistance as we work together to identify the principles that must guide our nation’s thinking on immigration reform,” the letter reads. It’s co-signed by Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), Justin Amash (R-MI), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Trey Radel (R-FL), and Mark Meadows (R-NC).
Several of the signees, who represent some of the most conservative voices in Congress, praised Paul’s take on immigration at a Heritage Foundation event Wednesday. Some, like Duncan and Mulvaney, have “A” ratings from anti-immigration group Numbers USA, making their support for any kind of reform legislation a major shift. Out of nine participants in Wednesday’s panel, not a single one raised an objection to Paul’s speech on immigration reform, which called on Congress to legalize the nation’s undocumented population, expand guest worker programs, and tie changes in immigrant status to the implementation of border security measures.
The letter outlines the members’ concerns about immigration reform, which include a security trigger contingent on improvements to visa tracking and new technology to monitor border crossings as well as an expanded legal guest worker program — ideas that are included in the Senate’s bipartisan plan.
The authors hint at tensions over whether undocumented immigrants could eventually seek citizenship, although they do not explicitly rule the idea out. Paul told reporters this week that he supports an eventual path to citizenship for illegal immigrants (though not in those words), but a number of House Republicans have expressed uneasiness with the idea.
According to the group’s letter, their plan would protect the rights of legal immigrants, “But it also may mean providing illegal immigrants a legal status, upon certain conditions and that may not include full rights of citizenship, to people who are currently here.”
Their interest in immigration may be a reflection of what they’re hearing from their constituents — a new poll out Thursday found majority support for reform among Republicans, evangelicals, working class white voters, and plurality support among self-identified tea partiers.
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.