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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Time is running out for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. House of Representatives -- and that worries valley Republican David Valadao, who said Tuesday he hasn't ruled out a break with his party's leadership.
"A bunch of us are getting nervous," Valadao said, noting that he and other like-minded colleagues may push their own party's leadership to take action on immigration reform before the end of the year.
The freshman congressman from Hanford represents the 21st District, where seven of 10 residents and more than half of registered voters are Hispanic. Not only are his constituents watching, pressure is mounting from leaders in ag, business, faith and law enforcement who say now is the time for real reform.
But House Republicans are split, with Tea Party conservatives who oppose reform on one side and Republicans in swing districts on the other.
During a telephone press conference Tuesday, Valadao told reporters a lot of his Republican colleagues are interested in the issue. If they can come together as a group, House leaders will be more likely to listen -- and act.
One of Valadao's colleagues, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, has already broken with leadership by endorsing an immigration plan that includes a "path to citizenship" for immigrants who are in the country illegally. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the reform bill in June with bipartisan support but the measure has gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled House.
While Valadao favors a path to citizenship, he remained cautious Tuesday about whether to take the kind of risk Denham has taken and throw his support behind the bipartisan effort.
"I haven't ruled that out yet," Valadao said.
Several high-profile supporters of immigration reform joined Valadao at the press conference, including Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce CEO Cynthia Pollard, Fresno Chamber CEO Al Smith, California Chamber President Marti Fisher, Nisei Farmers League President Manuel Cunha, and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.
The current "broken system" allows criminals "to hide in our midst," said Mims, who noted that criminalizing immigrants builds a wall between law enforcement and the community.
"We have a population who are afraid to report crimes when they are victimized," she said.
Pollard and Smith said the current system is hurting farmers and acting as a drain on the economy. It's "absolutely critical" that Congress act, Pollard said.
Fisher told reporters there are 2.6 million immigrants living illegally in California, about half of whom have lived in the state for more than a decade.
"Undocumented workers in the United States need a process to achieve legal status," she said.
Despite the mounting pressure to act, House Speaker John Boehner has been non-commital about whether to allow the House to move forward on the issue. And many on the party's right flank oppose reform, saying it will encourage even more illegal immigration and reward rule breakers.
Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's top lobbyist, expressed doubt that the House would act on immigration reform in the few legislative days left this year, according to Reuters.
Despite his efforts, if Valadao is left holding the bag, his opponents say it will leave him vulnerable next year when he runs for re-election against Latina opponent Amanda Renteria, who announced her candidacy last month.
Renteria said in a statement Tuesday that Valadao is one of many in Washington who talk about problems rather than do something about them.
"Valadao could have taken part in bipartisan talks that have been going on all year, but he hasn't," she said. "He could have joined other Republicans and worked on a popular Democratic proposal, but he won't do that, either. Congressman Valadao just isn't getting the job done, and that's unacceptable for the valley."