COEUR d’ALENE — Idaho’s freshman Republican Congressman Raul Labrador said he’s spending time these days working to establish a conservative consensus within his party on the hot-button issue of immigration reform.
He said he’s laying the groundwork for that consensus right now, meeting with individual members of Congress, conservative groups, and everyone else with a conservative opinion on the issue.
“We’re working on getting people to the table to come up with a plan,” Labrador said.
He wants to make sure Republicans are “not seen as the party of anti-immigration, but the party of legal immigration,” he told the Hagadone News Network in a recent interview.
With so many other major issues before Congress currently — not the least of which is the debt ceiling and deficit stand-off — immigration legislation will likely have to wait until the next session. But then Congress has been struggling with the issue for decades already.
Labrador, who was born in Puerto Rico and came to the mainland as a teenager, was an immigration lawyer for 15 years in the Boise area before being elected to Congress. That history gives him a certain amount of expertise on the subject.
Late last month, Labrador, a tea party favorite, was featured in a front-page article in a national publication, Politico, that detailed his unique personal story and professional experience. The article also reported his recent rise to become a party leader on the issue.
“There’s not a lot of people with my background and experience here,” he said from his office on Capitol Hill. “You want to find an area where you can contribute.”
While an immigration lawyer, Labrador said he handled all sorts of cases, mostly helping people walk through the legal process of immigrating to the U.S.
His conservative positions on other issues, such as spending and the size of government, have helped build the confidence of others in his own caucus. That confidence will allow him to take the lead on a major issue for the party.
At home in Idaho, he said, his constituents are on board with his work on the issue. Constituents see illegal immigration as an important issue.
“Most people do want a guest worker program,” he said. “We all understand there are some jobs you do need some migrant workers for.”
He doesn’t support citizenship for people living in the U.S. illegally. And he doesn’t support just closing the border.
He said the system must ensure workers are available to employers here in Idaho and other states in the U.S. Today, however, the system is broken, he said.
There’s too much red tape, and people and businesses are having a hard time following all the rules to be legal.
If both employers and workers are going to be punished for not following the laws, he said, there has to be a “predictable system of immigration” in place.
“You should give (employers) the ability to hire people in a legal manner,” he said.