First District Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador pledged today to keep working on immigration reform, despite having walked away last week from a bipartisan group of eight members working to craft a House bill. “I promise you, this does not delay the process,” he told a dozen members of the Coalition for Immigrant Rights of Idaho, who stood chanting in the foyer of his office for nearly 40 minutes before Labrador emerged from a conference call. Labrador then talked with the group, answering questions in both Spanish and English, for the next 45 minutes, in a conversation that was sometimes friendly, but occasionally heated. “Just this morning, John Boehner announced that he wants immigration reform done by the Fourth of July,” Labrador said. “My goal is to have immigration reform done by the end of this year.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Labrador said his differences with the bipartisan “Group of Eight” went beyond the health care issue he pointed to last week – that he believes immigrants should cover their own catastrophic health care costs, rather than qualify for coverage under Obamacare. He said he’d earlier “agreed to disagree” with the group over guest worker programs, and he saw what had been overall agreement on a broad array of issues disintegrating as the lawmakers got into the details of crafting a bill, with the health care issue as the second big disagreement. “My goal is to make sure that something good passes,” he said, adding that he didn’t believe the bill the bipartisan group was working toward would end up passing the GOP-dominated House.
“I decided that there’s a better way,” Labrador said. He said he’s working with members of the House Judiciary Committee, on which he serves, and he expects an array of reform bills to come to that panel. “What we’re probably going to do is a more step by step approach,” he said. But once the House has passed something, it’ll have to go to conference with the Senate. “In the conference, it’s going to have to be a bipartisan solution, whatever happens,” he said. “When it gets to the conference, it will be comprehensive.”
Ruby Mendez, a 21-year-old intern organizer for the Idaho Community Action Network from Star, said, “We have supported you when you were practicing law, and we have even voted for you so you can fix our immigration system.” But she said she and others in Idaho’s Latino community were surprised and disappointed by Labrador’s move last week. “I think as a Latina in Idaho, I’ve seen many of my family and friends be affected by a broken immigration system,” she said. “To see the injustice, it’s been a tough task. … We represent here in Idaho 11 percent – we’re a growing community.”
The Idaho group stresses keeping families together; Labrador said he shares that goal. “This is the main reason that I have not walked away from immigration reform – we have to do the right thing for America,” he said. “We have a broken system, and I worked in the system for 15 years. I saw families broken up. … We can’t allow the immigration system to stay this way.”
Labrador said he doesn’t fully support the current Senate bill as written, but might in the future depending on how it’s amended. “I’m doing everything I can,” he told the group. After they left his office, Labrador said he’s gotten differing reactions from other groups since quitting the bipartisan reform talks last week. “Actually, most people are happy,” he said. “A lot of people in Idaho don’t want me to do any immigration reform.” But, he said, “I’m trying.”