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Immigration Players to Watch

Democrats from Trump states in a tight spot

Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, left, and Marco Rubio of Florida, both members of the Gang of Eight, are expected to be key players in the immigration debate in the next Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, left, and Marco Rubio of Florida, both members of the Gang of Eight, are expected to be key players in the immigration debate in the next Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)


Several important groups of lawmakers will have outsized roles influencing the immigration debate in the 115th Congress. They include:

Senate Democrats in Trump states

Ten Democrats from states won by Donald Trump are up for re-election in 2018, and all voted for the Senate immigration bill in 2013. They include Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who all could face tough Republican challenges. All have a history of bucking their leadership, but would they stick with Democrats to block GOP bills that don’t address undocumented workers? Tester said he’ll wait and see, but told Roll Call that “if it’s about making sure our borders are secure, it’s going to be tough not to vote for that.”

Senate Republicans who voted yes in 2013

Eleven of the 14 Republicans who voted for the Senate immigration bill in 2013 are returning to Congress next year. Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Gang of Eight that wrote the measure, abandoned the comprehensive premise as he caught flak back home for supporting amnesty. Jeff Flake of Arizona, another Gang of Eight member, is up for re-election in 2018. So too is Nevada’s Dean Heller. Flake has said he’ll vote for standalone bills on border security though John McCain, his Arizona colleague, has said he still wants a comprehensive bill. Any Republican lost from this group means another Democrat will have to come on board.

Republican leadership

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has always indicated an openness to creating a pathway to legal status for the undocumented, but the landscape will be much different in 2017. He will need to thread the needle among immigration hard-liners, Republicans and the House Freedom Caucus. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell largely stayed on the sidelines during the last immigration debate. Both have already said that “border security” is a top priority.

House Judiciary Republicans

As Judiciary chairman, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia has sway over immigration legislation and has shown a willingness to advance bills designed to enhance visa security and to crack down on asylum opportunities for undocumented border-crossers. Goodlatte, a former immigration attorney, said in 2014 that undocumented immigrants should be offered “appropriate status” after the border is secured. The Judiciary Committee, though, is stacked with conservatives, such as Louie Gohmert of Texas, eager to pursue Trump’s agenda. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, current chairman of the Immigration subcommittee, can serve as a middleman between Goodlatte and hard-liners like Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

House Judiciary Democrats

Democratic Reps. Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois and Zoe Lofgren of California will play lead roles in opposing tough enforcement legislation that Trump may want to move through the House. Gutierrez is the overhaul movement’s emotional standard-bearer and Lofgren is a former immigration lawyer. They, along with key House appropriator Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, have already called on President Barack Obama to shield Dreamers from Trump. While they support border security and interior enforcement as part of a comprehensive package, they are unlikely to work with Trump without assurances that might assuage fears in the immigrant community.

House Freedom Caucus

The 40-something group of House conservatives occupies a unique role in this debate. Many are full-throated supporters of Trump’s border security and enforcement agenda, but they are also fiercely opposed to steep increases in federal spending. If Trump requests untold billions to build hundreds of miles of border fencing, Freedom Caucus members will have to weigh their priorities. Many are also social conservatives and may feel a moral opposition to harsh enforcement measures targeting families or children. Members Jim Jordan of Ohio, the group’s outgoing chairman, and Raúl Labrador of Idaho both sit on the Judiciary Committee.

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