U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) signed on as the first Republican co-sponsor of H.R. 15, the House Immigration reform bill, on Sunday.
“I'm really excited about cosponsoring the bill,” Denham said during a Monday conference call. “I think it's time we have a bill that addresses all areas of immigration reform.”
The comprehensive immigration reform package includes bolstered border security, additional enforcement of current laws, an agricultural worker program, and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Calling the bill a “real and effective” solution to a broken system, noted that America is a nation of immigrants. It's time that illegal immigrants come out of the shadows, he said, and that no more families are broken apart.
“I support an earned path to citizenship to allow those who want to become citizens to demonstrate a commitment to our country, learn English, pay fines and back taxes and pass background checks,” Denham said. “This is a common-sense solution to our broken system. I also support a faster pathway for the children who were brought here by their parents through no fault of their own, who have been raised in America and educated in our schools and have no other country to call home.”
The bill also includes Denham's ENLIST Act, which would grant illegal immigrants U.S. Citizenship if they serve for the U.S. Military and are honorably discharged after competing their service. It's a provision that simply makes sense, the bill's author, Joe Garcia (D-Florida), said.
“People who are willing to die for this country should be able to jump to the front of the line (for citizenship) any day of the week,” Garcia said.
Though Denham is the first Republican to sign on to the bill, he expects others to sign on in the next few days. He is currently the only Republican among the bill's 186 cosponsors.
But according to Garcia, having a notable, immigration-minded Republican like Denham sign on to the bill will open the door for other Republicans to get behind the effort.
“We could have gotten a few other Republicans (to sign on as the first co-sponsor), but all the other Republicans we contacted asked, 'Where is Denham on this?'” Garcia said.
The bill, in its current state, is a balanced measure with a real possibility of passing, Garcia said. It includes both Democratic wants, and Republican desires – like beefed-up border security.
“It's a bill that I would have liked to be a little bit more liberal, but I don't think that would have gotten the votes to get this through,” Garcia said.
The bill is still a work-in-progress. But Denham said the bill, in its current iteration, provides an opportunity to find common ground.
If the bill is approved, the House can conference with the Senate to work out differences of opinion. And by having an immigration debate in the House, focused around H.R. 15, other Republicans will be forced to talk about what solutions they can support.
Though some other Republicans have derided the idea of a path to citizenship, making “outrageous” statements, Denham said it's an important issue to his constituency. And it's not just important to those in the Central Valley – it's important to every American, Denham said, as the immigration crisis contributes to joblessness and the skyrocketing federal debt.
“If we can all agree that this is a problem, then we need to be responsible leaders and come up with a solution,” Denham said.
Denham said he is hopeful will have a floor vote this year, likely in November.
“The time is now to get it done,” Denham said. “… This is only going to get done if it is a bipartisan measure.”