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Republicans Face Competing Pressures On Immigration

Evening Edition

Immigration reform is going to be a hot topic during the Congressional August break, especially here in California. Changing demographics mean a rapidly changing constituency for many legislators. Some Republicans will be facing tough choices on how to respond to their demands. From our Fronteras Desk, Jill Replogle profiles one California district where a Republican congressman finds himself in the hot seat.

Dueling protests may be the norm for some congresspeople being targeted by groups on opposite sides of the immigration reform debate.

Aired 8/6/13 on KPBS News.

Congressman Gary Miller of California’s Inland Empire is one of several dozen Republican legislators considered susceptible to changing their hardline stances on immigration issues. He faces tough choices about how to respond to a rapidly changing constituency.

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — About 75 people held a rally on a recent Friday outside Republican Congressman Gary Miller’s office in Rancho Cucamonga, east of Los Angeles.

“Congressman Gary Miller, your constituents from the 31st district are holding you accountable,” a woman shouted into a microphone. “Over 50 percent of the voters in your 31st district are Latino or Asian-American immigrants.”

The group presented Miller's office with close to two thousand signatures from voters and supporters of comprehensive immigration reform — including a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.

A smaller group — around 25 people — stood on the sidewalk and grass just outside the rally carrying signs reading “Hire Americans” and “Stop Illegal Immigration.”

“We don’t have a broken immigration system, we have a broken law enforcement system,” said Robin Hvidston, who was part of this second group, “and we believe the focus of our congressman should be on Americans.”

Miller is up for re-election next year, and political analysts and pro-immigration reform groups have identified him as highly susceptible to softening his thus-far hardline stance on immigration issues.

Miller voted against the DREAM Act, the bill that would’ve granted legal status to young people brought here by their parents illegally as children. And he recently voted — along with most of his Republican colleagues — to reverse the Obama administration’s policy of deferring deportation for DREAMers.

House Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with the Democratic Party, recently launched a TV advertising campaign denouncing Miller’s voting record on immigration.

As Republicans struggle to court the growing Latino voter base, Miller and other electorally vulnerable legislators face tough choices about their public stances on immigration issues.

Miller faces a diverse constituency back home. The 31st District is a mix of well-to-do bedroom communities and hardscrabble towns stretched out along the I-10 highway in Southern California’s Inland Empire.

Miller’s support base comes mostly from the higher end of the income scale here, from people like John and Linda Rodriguez, long-time residents of Rancho Cucamonga.

Both identify themselves as conservative, and though both are of Mexican heritage, they said they agreed with Miller’s stance on immigration.

John and Linda Rodriguez worry that illegal immigration is too costly for the country, and that giving a break to people in the country illegally will encourage more people to come.

Sandra Gonzalez, a newly-naturalized U.S. Citizen, is reaching out to opponents of immigration reform in an attempt to find common ground.

“In another 20, 30 it is going to happen again, and then in another 20, 30 it’s going to happen again,” Rodriguez said. “It just seems that there should be — this is it.”

But Miller’s constituents of the future — the ones he needs to win over if he hopes to keep his seat — are younger. Many come from recent immigrant families, like Sandra Gonzalez and her two voting age children.

Gonzalez and her husband run an auto body shop that pulls in a half-million dollars a year. They both originally came to the U.S. illegally, but were allowed to stay here under the 1986 amnesty.

Gonzalez became a citizen three years ago and voted in last year’s election.

“I’m always going to be using my vote because I know that’s my power,” she said, “the way to show that we are here.”

Gonzalez was at the recent protest in front of Congressman Miller’s office — advocating for immigration reform on behalf of the local Catholic Church.

She talked to some of the counter protestors, and she thinks their concerns aren’t actually that far apart.

“I don't want people that is illegal, break the law and come here and work,” she said. “I'm on your side. That's why we need to change laws."

Congressman Miller didn’t give an interview for this story but his views echo the Republican Party line.

A spokesman for Miller said the congressman's top concerns are preserving jobs for American workers and securing the borders, but he wants to hear out all sides.

If Gonzalez is right and Congressman Miller’s most vocal constituents can come to agree on at least some aspects of immigration reform, maybe there's some hope that Congress can do the same.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | August 6, 2013 at 2:07 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

This brings up the 1986 amnesty Reagan pushed for. Didn't work then, why should we believe amnesty would work now. Does anyone think millions more would be encouraged to come here illegally too? Or would amnesty fix the problem?

I believe we need change in our immigration system. I've had family go through the process for legal citizenship, which they got, but I found the system overwhelming and difficult. So yes, we need reform. We need change. Many of the workers at the immigration office behave as though they are working there because they have been punished. They don't smile, look you in the eye, don't answer questions, appear as though you are bothering them.

But then, reform would be much easier if Third World nations did their part versus standing by and allowing their citizens to enter our country illegally when they should be working to improve their economy, workplace environment, pay, benefits. Their people will not be happy with their country until they can earn a living that makes them feel proud of their government and what they have. All I hear is how America needs reform. It's a two-way street. Only when we work together will this problem be solved.

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Avatar for user 'PortTabacco'

PortTabacco | August 27, 2013 at 5:01 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Sandra Gonzalez:
“I don't want people that is illegal, break the law and come here and work,” she said. “I'm on your side. That's why we need to change laws."

And is Mexico or any other country going to change their laws to benefit foreign lawbreakers? I DON'T SEE IT HAPPENING?
Sandra Gonzalez sound like the typical Third World foreigner regarding her views. She needs to stand back and get her head on straight!

Obey our laws and keep the United States a great country! Stop harassing American citizens on their own soil!

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Avatar for user 'PortTabacco'

PortTabacco | August 27, 2013 at 5:03 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

We do not need to change our Immigration system! We have wonderful immigration laws.
The problem is our government is cheating by not enforcing our laws.
Shame on the U.S. government for breaking our long-standing wonderful laws!
They worked in the past!

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