With immigration reform once again in the spotlight on Capitol Hill, politics is again making for strange bedfellows.
Before the holiday break, much ado was made about three House Republicans who signed onto legislation sponsored by Democrats, who continue to push for a path to citizenship for the 11 million people in the U.S. illegally.
Now, for the first time, a California House Democrat indicated this week he’s willing to break ranks on the key, controversial element.
Freshman Democrat Juan Vargas said he "could sign onto a bill that does not include citizenship."
The congressman from Chula Vista was talking about a bill being readied by Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of Vista. Issa has not yet introduced the measure, which reportedly includes legal status, but not citizenship. Republicans, who hold a majority in the House, could pass an immigration bill without any Democratic support.
Vargas, a former Jesuit seminarian, said he believes denying citizenship is wrong, but it shouldn’t be the issue that scraps a comprehensive immigration plan: "If that’s what we’re up against and if we’re told point blank there’s no way that citizenship will pass, well then, aren’t we just fooling ourselves?"
Vargas’ position was news to the Democratic Caucus Chairman, Congressman Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles. Becerra said he'd "not heard of any Democrat willing to treat any person as a second class American." Becerra, part of a bi-partisan House group that negotiated for months but failed to come up with an immigration bill, says he’d “chat” with Vargas and “find out what he’s thinking.”
Two of the Republicans who have signed on to the Democrats' immigration bill — Jeff Denham and David Valadao — are from California's Central Valley. Marc Sandelow, who teaches political science at the University of California's DC Center, says the politics work for those members who represent heavily Latino districts: "For them to join with Democrats on immigration is a matter of political survival."
But Sandelow said for Vargas — a Democrat who represents the border area — to join with Republicans, "would be political suicide." Vargas waives off any political risk, saying he's one of the strongest advocates for human rights along the border and the bottom line is, "Let's make a deal."
House Speaker John Boehner is working with his GOP colleagues on a list of “principles” to include in Republican-sponsored immigration legislation.