New York Times
By Ashley Parker
November 23, 2013
PUEBLO, Colo. — Representative Scott Tipton, Republican of Colorado, entered his town hall meeting and quickly began greeting the assembled crowd, including those who did not necessarily share his political views.
He shook the hands of a group of Hispanic teenagers sitting in the front row, welcoming them like old friends. The teenagers, who had been brought to the country illegally by their parents as young children, had come the day before to lobby Mr. Tipton to support a broad immigration overhaul.
“You were there yesterday!” he said to one of the teenagers, who were dressed in red and had already attended several other events in his district. “Well, thanks for taking the time. Did you have a good drive?” He turned to another member of the group. “I have not got you to smile once,” he said, offering a smile of his own, before moving to the front of the room to start his meeting.
Mr. Tipton has come to know the immigration advocates in his district — and their issue — well. As House Republicans have all but ruled out the possibility of passing any sweeping legislation before the end of the year, immigration advocates are operating with an increased sense of urgency. Their goal is to pressure lawmakers like Mr. Tipton to support an overhaul, creating a call for action from Republican House members that they hope Speaker John A. Boehner and his leadership team will find impossible to ignore.
But persuading Mr. Tipton, a two-term lawmaker who rode into office on the Tea Party wave in 2010, to support any broad immigration legislation will be a tough sell.
In an interview at his Pueblo office, he said he was “calling for immigration reform a long time ago,” but has yet to make up his mind on the crux of the debate: what to do with the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally.
“We’ve got some that were looking for a better life, but they broke the laws to this country,” he said. “That can’t be without penalty.”
Mr. Tipton has shown some willingness to compromise on the question of the young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, who were brought here by their parents as young children. He said he would handle their plight “compassionately.”
Democrats, perhaps optimistically, hope to get Mr. Tipton to sign on to the broad bill they recently introduced, which includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. Immigration advocacy groups hope to show him that there could be political consequences if he does not take steps to help overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
According to the most recent census, Mr. Tipton’s district, which covers nearly the entire western half of the state as well as part of its southern border with New Mexico, is 24 percent Hispanic. Combined with the large agricultural businesses on the Western Slope, the demographic forces alone would seem to compel Mr. Tipton to support some form of immigration overhaul. President Obama won the state narrowly in both 2008 and 2012, and Mr. Tipton won re-election last year with 53 percent of the vote.
This month, a coalition of immigration advocates, as well as labor and religious groups, inaugurated the “Cost of Inaction,” a voter education and outreach campaign that targets nine House Republicans, Mr. Tipton included, to push for a vote on an immigration overhaul before the end of the year. Though the Senate passed its own broad immigration bill in June with bipartisan support, immigration advocates have become increasingly frustrated with the House, which has made little progress on legislation of its own and is unlikely to take a vote this year.
“We feel that to move them, we have to awaken the electoral vulnerability that Republicans face, both specific Republicans that have large and growing immigrant electorates and also the party as a national party,” said Tom Snyder, the immigration campaign director for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., one of the groups behind the campaign. “It’s very hard to think about them winning a presidential election with an immigrant electorate that’s growing and overwhelmingly hostile to the party.”
Mr. Tipton said that as a former businessman, he favored a “step by step” approach to the problem, with smaller bills dealing with border security and a guest worker program coming first. “If we’ve got border security and, in virtual tandem, a good viable guest worker program,” he said, “this is going to first of all address national security concerns.”
He is also worried about the potential immigrants still in their home countries, who have been waiting, sometimes for years, to try to enter the United States through legal channels. “Do we want to treat them fairly as well?” he asked. “We can’t put anyone in front of them.”
Immigration advocates are hoping that Colorado is particularly primed to be on the forefront of their push in Congress.
“There is not a part of our state, from the agriculture economy to the tourism economy to the high-tech economy, that is not reliant on our having a functioning immigration system and is not compromised by the broken system we have today,” said Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, who was part of the group that drafted the Senate’s immigration bill. “What puzzles me about this issue is why it becomes partisan when it’s in Washington, D.C. It’s not partisan in Colorado.”
One challenge for Mr. Tipton, said someone who has talked to him about the issue, is that he was first elected with the support of the Tea Party, a group that largely scorns a broad immigration overhaul as an amnesty, and he is hesitant to alienate this core constituency.
John Harold, a vegetable farmer in Olathe and a Democrat, said an immigration overhaul was so crucial to his business that he had told his Democratic friends that if Mr. Tipton were to face a primary challenge from the right because of his support for a broad immigration measure, “we would have to support his candidacy.”
“Agriculture as we know it is in jeopardy without immigration reform,” said Mr. Harold, who added that he had a hard time finding local workers to pick his corn, which can total 1.25 million ears each day during the high season. “The types of crops we grow and the methods we use are reliant on a good labor force.”
Of Mr. Tipton, he added: “I don’t know that he’s going to come around. I don’t know if there’s a chance for him.”
The goal for advocates is not only to prod Republican lawmakers like Mr. Tipton to “come around,” but also to urge those who are already on board to become more vocal, pressuring their leadership to put a broad immigration bill on the House floor before the end of the year.
“There’s a lot of Republicans who have indicated some general support for immigration reform, and a lot of groups right now are trying to translate that support into action,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, which is pushing for an overhaul.
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