Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Immigration activists switch strategy to a hardline approach

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Immigration activists say they’re switching tactics in the push for comprehensive reform from "persuasion to punishment.”

Last week, Speaker John Boehner dashed hopes that the House would vote on immigration bills anytime soon. Kim Matos, from Campaign for Community Change, accuses Boehner of lacking “political will and courage” and says the fallout will affect the entire Republican caucus. Matos says GOP House members should expect “relentless and constant confrontations that will escalate until they agree to support immigration reform.”

Those targeted include a pair of California Republicans who co-signed a Democratic bill that includes a path to citizenship. Jeff Denham and David Valadao, both of the Central Valley, have been lobbying their GOP colleagues on immigration reform. Nevertheless, Matos says they’ll be targeted as well. “No Republican is safe.”

Denham and Valadao are both in highly competitive re-election races in districts where Democrats are the majority among registered voters.. Even though both have been leaders in their party on immigration reform, it may not pay off in November.

Marc Sandelow, who teaches political science at the University of California DC Center, says many voters “won’t appreciate the distinction” from the rest of the GOP, which has backed away from immigration reform. He adds that “most voters who feel strongly about immigration reform and citizenship are voting Democratic anyway.”

Another Central Valley Republican, Devin Nunes of Fresno, says the strategy of immigration activists has been counter-productive. He blames them for stalling immigration legislation, saying “they killed it.”

The immigration coalition, however, will not target a Democrat who broke with his party to support Republicans on legalization. Democrats have been firm that they’ll accept nothing less than a path to citizenship. Chula Vista freshman Juan Vargas says if the House majority GOP insists there’s no way that citizenship will pass, then Democrats are "just fooling ourselves.”

That stance got Vargas’ hand slapped by Democratic leadership. But Frank Sharry, head of the pro-reform group America’s Voice, says Vargas won’t be punished by immigration activists, because “the people who are stopping a majority from expressing its will in the House of Representatives are the Republicans.”

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