As the immigration reform debate has swept through Congress, it’s been an open question as to where the state’s Republican delegation stands. It’s a divisive subject within the GOP. Some conservatives remain adamantly opposed to any bill that includes what they call “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Others are increasingly willing to consider immigration reform, especially in light of the last presidential election, which indicated that the party will sink if it can’t appeal to more Hispanics.
Count Dave Reichert among the latter. As a guest on John Carlson’s KVI radio show yesterday, the sheriff-turned-Congressmember revealed that he supports finding a “way to build a solution for the 12 million people who are here.” It’s a view no doubt influenced by the dynamics of his district, home to both Microsoft and farmlands east of the Cascades, both of which rely on immigrants.
“It’s huge,” says Charlie McAteer, spokesperson for the immigration advocacy group OneAmerica. McAteer says Reichert is the first Republican House member from Washington to come out in favor of “earned citizenship.”
OneAmerica tweeted a shout-out to Reichert this morning. Also today, a national immigration reform organization added Reichert’s name to a list it is compiling of Republican Congressmembers who are supporting citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The list, now 22-person strong, includes Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan, the up-and-comer who served as Mitt Romney’s running mate last year.
While significant, Reichert’s comments to Carlson were nevertheless vague. In Carlson, the U.S. representative faced a conservative who is firmly in the anti-“amnesty” camp. When Carlson started off asking whether Congress was going to pass a bill containing such a provision this year, Reichert observed that the Republican-controlled House had no intention of taking up the Senate’s comprehensive reform bill. Instead, he said the House would look at the issue “in pieces.”
“We’re going to go about this our own way,” Reichert asserted.
Carlson kept harping on the amnesty piece. “Here’s my concern,” the radio host said. “The last time we had amnesty…it caused a surge of illegal immigration as people said, ‘we’ll just head up to America and wait for the next amnesty.’” Carlson was referring to the amnesty program launched by Ronald Reagan in the ‘80s.
“But John,” Reichert countered. “There is also a responsibility on our part to recognize that the federal government and immigration system has failed. What we failed to do was control our borders.”
Reichert went on to say we could handle the ensuing problem three ways: Do nothing, arrest all 12 million illegal immigrants, or find a solution. He made clear that his vote was for number three.
“I want to get them to the point where they’ve got to pay a fine, there’s some penalties they have to go through, there’s steps they have to go through. I want to hold them accountable, and then they get citizenship,” Reichert said, as things got even feistier with Carlson.
He didn’t spell out all the details. But McAteer’s enthusiasm is undampened. After all, he said, Reichert “pushed back against a conservative radio host.”
OneAmerica announced this morning that it is holding a series of town halls across the state this month in an effort to “turn up the heat” on other House Republicans.