WASHINGTON -- As a comprehensive immigration overhaul appears stuck, for the moment, in the House of Representatives, an influential coalition is betting that members of Congress from California can break the logjam.
Prominent Republicans and their traditional allies in the business community frame an immigration overhaul as both crucial to the economy and the long-term prospects of the party. And they are waging an educational campaign to encourage California lawmakers to lead the way.
Its an issue that attracts a lot of emotions, and we want to make sure people have the facts, said California Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Allan Zaremberg.
Last week, CalChamber began a public push for a House vote on a bipartisan bill the Senate approved last month. And because Republicans are in the majority, CalChambers effort is focused on the states 15 GOP lawmakers in the House.
Zaremberg said that theres no question that Republicans are a target of the chambers efforts.
They have the opportunity to have a great deal of influence, he said. If youre a Republican and you care about jobs and the economy, its important for you to understand the consequences.
The Senate last month approved a bipartisan bill that would increase funding for border security, create a guest-worker program and establish a path to citizenship for those living in the country illegally. But when, and how, the effort moves forward depends on the House Republicans, where there is considerably more resistance.
Some people might not see immediate impact in their district, said Ruben Barrales, a former aide to President George W. Bush whos working to attract more Latino voters to the Republican Party. I hope theyll understand the bigger picture.
The 38 House Democrats from California are largely united on immigration, but Republicans are all over the map.
At one end of the spectrum, Central Valley Republican Reps. Jeff Denham, David Valadao and Devin Nunes represent districts with large percentages of Latino voters, as well as an agricultural economy that depends on migrant workers. Theyve been more receptive to an immigration bill along the lines of what the Senate approved.
At the other end, hardliners such as Reps. Tom McClintock, Dana Rohrabacher and Duncan Hunter have shown little willingness to budge. Theyve consistently opposed what they call amnesty for people who broke the law.
Some Republicans, such as Reps. Gary Miller and Kevin McCarthy, the third-ranking Republican in the House, appear to be on the fence.
I appreciate that people have policy differences, Barrales said. We need to set the right policy.
California is home to nearly a quarter of the 11 million people living without documentation in the country.
CalChamber and more than 40 local chambers of commerce wrote in a letter to members of Congress last week that resolving the immigration status of 2.6 million California residents would unlock billions of dollars of consumer spending and investment and help the state recover from the lingering effects of the recession.
Zaremberg said that the state needs the right combination of high-skilled and low-skilled workers for its economy to flourish, and that a comprehensive immigration overhaul would help that happen.