Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Friday that his fellow conservatives are "getting soft" on immigration enforcement by expressing openness to the legalization of undocumented immigrants -- a move that he said would cause a massive increase in unauthorized immigration.
"I've had a long discussion with some of my members, who are getting soft on the issue," Broun said. "But Laura, until we secure the border nothing else matters. And if we start opening up discussion and showing folks from outside this country that we're going to legalize and give amnesty to other folks that come here illegally, all that's going to do is cause a flood. And that's going to create cost to federal government."
Ingraham asked the Tea Party congressman whether he, like other members of his party, might support legalization and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
"No I'm not, absolutely not," he replied. "These illegal aliens are criminals and we need to treat them as such. I'm not in favor of giving amnesty to anybody who has broken the law. I applaud what our Georgia legislature is doing in trying to crack down on this situation."
A key provision of Georgia's strict immigration law, modeled after Arizona's controversial SB 1070, was blocked by a federal judge earlier this week.
Broun's view used to be the mainstream position of his party, but its shift to the center on immigration reform has left many of those with his stance behind. The Republican National Committee endorsed comprehensive immigration reform -- without delving into many specifics -- on Monday, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that undocumented immigrants should be legalized and given the opportunity to become citizens.
Six conservative House members -- Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Trey Radel (R-Fla.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) -- voiced their support for Paul in a letter on Thursday, not exactly endorsing a path to citizenship but not entirely ruling it out.
"You noted Tuesday in your remarks to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that 'somewhere along the line, Republicans have failed to understand and articulate that immigrants are an asset to America, not a liability,' and that the Republican Party must embrace more legal immigration," they wrote to Paul. "We wholeheartedly agree -- and stand alongside you in your efforts."
Paul has argued his proposals for strict border enforcement, to be tracked yearly, would ensure a stop to future unauthorized immigration. A framework put forward by the so-called "gang of eight" in the Senate, which hopes to have a bill in early April, would similarly tie legalization measures for the undocumented to border enforcement.
Preston Maddock contributed reporting.