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CA House Democrats not completely united on citizenship for undocumented immigrants

Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Ontario) says Republican opposition to a path to citizenship is likely based on how new citizens may vote.
Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Ontario) says Republican opposition to a path to citizenship is likely based on how new citizens may vote.

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It’s often said that trying to keep Democrats together is like herding cats. That’s true with California's Congressional delegation — at least on some immigration issues.

Democrats sometimes sound like they’re reading off the same page. Literally. Henry Waxman of Los Angeles says a comprehensive immigration bill "should give people a pathway to citizenship." Judy Chu of Monterey Park says "immigration reform must have a roadmap to citizenship." Adam Schiff of Burbank: "There has to be some pathway to citizenship for them."

Democrats have made a path to citizenship the centerpiece of comprehensive immigration reform. But two of the newest California Democrats on Capitol Hill aren’t ready to walk that path just yet.

Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod, who represents the Ontario area, says she has to give "some thought" to granting citizenship rather than legal status to the undocumented. She reflects about people in the U.S. who have green cards.

"They’re here legally, but they don’t vote," McLeod notes. She suspects GOP opposition to citizenship is largely driven by the likely political leanings of potential new voters. McLeod says it may be a concern "to the other side of the aisle" if all those new citizens suddenly vote Democrat. "I mean, that would be really something."

San Diego Freshman Congressman Scott Peters says there must be a “rational way” to deal with the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States, but he doesn't think it's the time to draw "really hard lines. It’s the time to listen about how to make this better." 

Peters and McLeod may be cautious because they’re likely to face tough re-election campaigns in 2014. Peters' district is only a third Democratic — the rest are Republicans or voters who decline to state a party preference. McLeod made a late surge to beat incumbent and fellow Democrat Joe Baca with a boost from Michael Bloomberg's political action committee. She says Baca plans a rematch.

Two California Democrats — Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles and Zoe Lofgren of San Jose — are on the informal bi-partisan House task force trying to craft an immigration compromise. Both are strong supporters of full citizenship, not just some sort of legal status. Lofgren says even conservative evangelicals are saying it would be a mistake to take citizenship off the table.

"With the exception of slavery and the Chinese Exclusion Act," Lofgren says, "we’ve never said that people who come here, live here all their lives, cannot become Americans."

Lofgren says the task force is trying to craft a proposal that can pass in the GOP-led House. But the minority Democrats are going to have to convince their own members that citizenship for undocumented immigrants should remain part of the package.