Republicans Face Competing Pressures On Immigration
Monday, August 5, 2013
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.
“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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