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BY CHRISTINE BEDELL Californian city editor email@example.com
A day after saying he was on the fence about it, Congressman David Valadao bucked his party leadership Wednesday and officially backed a Democratic colleague's immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Valadao became the third Republican House member to support H.R. 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act by Congressman Joe Garcia, D-Fla.
Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock made national news when he became the first a few days ago. Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her backing of the bill Tuesday.
Valadao, a dairy farmer from Hanford, had said in a teleconference with reporters Wednesday that he'd been concentrating on showing Republican leadership that there was broad party support for reform by the end of the year. He wasn't ready then to sign onto the bill that more than 180 House Democrats were behind.
That apparently changed Wednesday.
"By supporting H.R. 15, I am strengthening my message: Addressing immigration reform in the House cannot wait," Valadao said in a news release. "I am serious about making real progress and will remain committed to doing whatever it takes to repair our broken immigration system."
Garcia, the Florida Democrat, also weighed in on Valadao's decision.
"I appreciate Congressman Valadao's willingness to work with both sides of the aisle on comprehensive immigration reform," he said in a statement. "With his support and help, I look forward to strengthening our nation's immigration system."
While the Central Valley Tea Party has not taken an official position on H.R. 15, "the vast majority of members" opposes the current proposals for comprehensive immigration reform, said spokesman Serafin Quintanar.
And so, he said, he was disappointed to hear of Valadao's new position on the bill.
"It was sad to see Jeff Denham jump in so quickly. To see David Valadao follow suit is a little bit disheartening," said Quintanar, whose group also recently "censured" Valadao and other valley congressmen for voting for the budget bill that reopened the federal government.
H.R. 15 is a retooled version of an immigration bill passed by the U.S. Senate.
The Senate bill, strongly backed by the White House, includes billions for border security, a reworked legal immigration system to allow tens of thousands of high- and low-skilled workers into the country and a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already here illegally.
The bill from House Democrats jettisoned the border security provision and replaces it. That bill, backed by conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, would require the homeland security secretary to develop a strategy to gain operational control of the border within five years and a plan to implement the strategy. It calls on the Government Accountability Office, Congress' auditing and investigative arm, to oversee the steps being taken.
An immigration bill would take 218 votes to pass.
As was noted about Denham when he made his support for H.R. 15 public, Valadao represents a district with a large Hispanic population. Some 70 percent of residents and more than half of registered voters in the 21st District are Hispanic. In Kern County, the district includes parts of Bakersfield plus Arvin, Shafter, Delano, Wasco, Buttonwillow and McFarland.
Two Hispanic Democrats have so far announced their candidacies to try to unseat Valadao next year, John Hernandez of Fresno, who is CEO of the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Amanda Renteria, a Tulare County native and former U.S. Senate staffer expected to have the party's backing.
Valadao has stressed, however, that his support for comprehensive immigration reform isn't just political, that it's about solving problems he's seen first-hand as a farmer and as someone who grew up surrounded by immigrants.
Contrary to widespread speculation that Republicans need to back current comprehensive immigration reform to win future Hispanic votes, the Tea Party's Quintanar said that move actually would be a "nightmare" for the Republican Party.
It might help the GOP in the short term, he said, but in the long term, legalizing millions of illegal immigrants would simply create more Democratic voters.
"It will be short-lived success," Quintanar said.
He said most Tea Party members also oppose current proposals because they want to see more border enforcement first.
While Quintanar agreed Valadao's announcement is a significant development, he doesn't think it will compel House leadership to put an immigration bill to a vote by the end of this year. It'll happen after the congressional primaries next year, he predicted.
As for the upcoming 21st District primary, Quintanar said the valley Tea Party group isn't looking for someone to challenge Valadao.
"David Valadao is hands-down better than the alternative," he said.
Groups to the left of Valadao took different views of his announcement Wednesday.
The United Farm Workers union applauded the first-term congressman.
"We urge Congressman Valadao to help persuade the Republican leadership, including House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, to bring H.R. 15 for a vote," the union said in a news release. "We have time to pass immigration reform. We have bipartisan support. All we ask is that House Republicans allow a vote."
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee slapped Valadao around for, in its words, acting too late. Renteria had the same criticism of Valadao Tuesday.
"After today," the DCCC said, "Congressman Valadao will not cast another scheduled vote until November 12, and the current legislative schedule includes only eight days of activity in the entire month of November."
-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.