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California Republicans go against GOP to push immigration vote

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Republican Rep. Jeff Denham attended the immigration rally at the National Mall last fall
Kitty Felde/KPCC
Republican Rep. Jeff Denham attended the immigration rally at the National Mall.

Rep. Jeff Denham: "I'm willing to stand up to my party when they're wrong."

California is home to more than 240,000 DACA recipients. All of them are waiting for the courts to decide the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after President Trump ended the program last year.

Trump gave legislators in Washington D.C. a March 5 deadline to pass new immigration laws but that deadline has come and gone and the House has yet to pass anything. 

Impatient with the immigration debate stalled in the House, a group of Republicans, led by California Congressman Jeff Denham, are trying to force the process along. They're invoking a bit of an unconventional political maneuvering called a Discharge Petition which may lead to a Queen of the Hill vote.

While the terms sound like dialogue from "The Crown," they're actually not totally unheard of in American politics. If Rep. Denham can recruit 214 members to sign his Discharge Petition, a Queen of the Hill vote will be triggered, meaning Congress would be forced to immediately vote on four proposed immigration bills. 

Forcing the hand of fellow Republicans 

Rep. Denham and his Republican colleagues are certainly stirring the pot within the GOP. Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, has markedly not taken up the immigration debate. Some fellow California Republicans have voiced criticism of the Discharge strategy, but Denham said D.C. has had its chance to make reform on its own. 

"We've been waiting for things to take their course for 30 years now," said Rep. Denham. "Both parties have had control of both houses and the presidency and never take this issue up."

Denham is up for re-election this year in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Democrats are working hard to unseat representatives like Denham, and with his narrow win of five percentage points in 2016, sticking his neck out over immigration will catch voters' attention.

Bucking mainstream Republicans does not appear to faze Denham. "I'm willing to stand up to my party when they're wrong," said Denham. "I'm not here to keep a job. I'm here to find solutions." 

Denham has historically been in support of protecting DACA and cited the contribution to the California workforce made by program recipients.

"To come out of the shadows and put yourself out there like that, we're driving for a permanent fix," said Denham.  While bucking against many within the GOP in his support of DACA, Denham takes a more conventional stance on border security.

"Over the last decades, there's been a promise from both Republicans and Democrats," added Denham. "Now's the time to get it done."

Both DACA and border security will be at the forefront of future immigration reform.   

Finding a middle ground on immigration

Compromise appears to be elusive in Washington these days, but that's what will, at least in part, need to happen to pass any new legislation around immigration. Enforcement of current immigration laws and strengthening border security will attract Republican support.

Denham is hopeful protection for DACA will garner bipartisan support.

"This is not a red state-blue state issue as much as members going home and talking about it in their district," Denham said. 

The Discharge Petition establishes a new deadline for lawmakers to pass immigration legislation. If a vote is not scheduled in the coming weeks, the Discharge Petition can set into motion as early as June 25. Denham and his colleagues present the end of June as a hard deadline for the legislature to take action. 

"The real question is, 'What do you want to do to get a solution here on immigration policy?'" asked Denham. "Even if there are differences between members on what their solution is, they've got to at least be able to drive the debate, and that's exactly what we're trying to do."

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