Conservative Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) said Monday that he supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, although at the same event he said they "are draining our coffers."
"Most people come here to work," he said at a town hall meeting, according to the Sawyer County Record. "Most are Hispanics and work hard at tough jobs. We can’t send 11 million people back home. We should put them on a path to citizenship."
Duffy's statement was somewhat surprising coming from a House Republican, given that many of them have said a pathway to citizenship would simply encourage further unauthorized immigration. Congress is currently working on immigration reform in both chambers, although the Senate is moving more quickly.
The bipartisan plan in the Senate, from the so-called gang of eight, would put more money into border security while also offering a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants. A House bipartisan group, which announced last week it had agreed to principles, is expected to create a more arduous pathway.
More consistent with his colleagues was Duffy's insistence that border enforcement come before any legalization of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
A constituent said in a question that the U.S. "does not take border enforcement seriously," and he worried that many immigrants who come here to work "seem to have no interest in assimilating, adopting the beliefs that the U.S. is built on."
"We're all a country of immigrants," Duffy replied. "I believe it's a valid concern as to where their loyalty is. I believe we have to secure our border; we have to know who’s coming in and out. Nothing will pass the House unless the border is first secured. There should be a legal way for people to come in and out who want to work, when we need those workers. Let’s fix it once and for all."
He later said he agreed when another constituent said the U.S. should support undocumented immigrants by giving them welfare such as food stamps.
Duffy has a B+ rating from NumbersUSA, an organization that supports restricting all immigration -- legal and unauthorized. He said in a questionnaire for the group that he opposes "amnesty" and was rated "leaning yes" for supporting reduction of immigration levels.
He's been quiet since the election, but it's clear the <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2012/11/10/rubio-immigration-presidential-run/1695791/">GOP is looking to their top Latino star</a> to deliver more votes next presidential election. Rubio is the obvious choice to make the Republican Party's case to Hispanic voters, but will he <a href="http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/riptide/2012/11/sorry_bill_oreilly_marco_rubio.php">remain opposed to a path to citizenship</a> for the undocumented?
The conservative Fox News commentator, once known for his criticism of anything resembling "amnesty," had this to say after last week's election: "We've gotta get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It's simple for me to fix it. I think you control the border first, you create a pathway for those people that are here, you don't say you gotta home. And that is a position that I've evolved on. Because you know what -- it just -- it's gotta be resolved. The majority of people here -- if some people have criminal records you can send' em home -- but if people are here, law-abiding, participating, for years, their kids are born here... first secure the border, pathway to citizenship... then it's done. But you can't let the problem continue. It's gotta stop."
Before the election, House Speaker John Boehner didn't think Marco Rubio's conservative alternative to the DREAM had a chance in the lower chamber. After President Obama trounced the GOP among Latino voters last week, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/09/us/politics/boehner-confident-of-deal-with-white-house-on-immigration.html">Boehner now says he's "confident"</a> Congress can work out a deal.
Texas' <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/11/19/121119fa_fact_lizza?currentPage=all">Tea Party-backed, Cuban-American U.S. Senator Ted Cruz</a> said after the elections that Republicans "If Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community ... in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority in our state." But it's not clear whether Cruz is the man to lead the party there. <a href="http://trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com/2012/11/will-identity-politics-work-for-the-gop-wooing-hispanics-in-texas.html/">He only won 35 percent of the Latino vote</a> in Texas, according to a Latino Decisions survey. His vocal opposition to the DREAM Act, deferred action and immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship are precisely the kinds of policy the GOP is looking to back away from in order to woo Latino voters.
After election night, former Mississippi Gov. <a href="http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1112/83562.html?hp=l7">Haley Barbour urged his fellow conservatives</a> to change their tune on immigration reform, saying: "we need to have an immigration policy that is good economic policy, and then -- and then the politics will take care of itself." Barbour had favored Marco Rubio's outline for an alternative to the DREAM Act, even going a step farther, saying he supported a path to citizenship.
Republican Iowa Congressman Steve King remains unconvinced that losing the Latino vote means the GOP should back down on its opposition to reform. After the election he fired off this tweet, which makes some kind of association between Santa Claus and a path to citizenship. King likes to compare immigrants to dogs, which he thinks is a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/21/steve-king-immigrants-dogs_n_1998007.html?1350852519">compliment</a>.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who appears to be planning a 2014 reelection run, said in a televised interview that she's "fine and dandy" with immigration reform so long as the federal government secures the border first. It's not clear what her standard for securing the border is, or whether the governor who signed SB 1070 would support a path to citizenship.
On election night, the conservative Fox News host offered up the analysis on prime time television that "the white establishment is now the minority" and that people of color, and women, want "stuff" and "things." Insulting Latinos as freeloaders probably isn't going to warm them up to conservatism. Incidentally, it's also incorrect. Non-white voters only make up 28 percent of the electorate, <a href="http://www.pewhispanic.org/files/2012/11/2012_Latino_vote_exit_poll_analysis_final_11-09.pdf">according to Pew Hispanic Center</a>. Notwithstanding his election night comments, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/19/bill-oreilly-jose-antonio-vargas_n_1610047.html">O'Reilly broke new ground with Jose Antonio Vargas</a> in June, when the conservative Fox News host said he favored offering a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.