Republicans on immigration reform: Before and after


Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) addresses a breakfast meeting of the 2013 Annual Legislative Summit of U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on March 19. (Alex Wong/Getty)

The Washington Post editorial board noted Wednesday that the "Immigration" section of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's 2013 gubernatorial campaign website, which until recently touted his tough policies cracking down on illegal residents, has disappeared. If  Cuccinelli is considering a softer stance on immigration, he's far from the only one in his party.

In the mid-2000s there "was just a remarkable lurch to the right in search of votes in competitive primaries, and it distorted where the Republican party had traditionally been on immigration," said Frank Sharry of the pro-reform group America's Voice. "I think that Republicans are politically driven to come back to the table, and once they're there, they realize that comprehensive immigration reform is really in line with Republican principles."

Here's a rundown of Republicans who have embraced new policies -- or at least, a new and more accommodating -- since the 2012 election:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

Before: In early 2011, Paul teamed up with Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) on an attempt to end birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. “Citizenship is a privilege, and only those who respect our immigration laws should be allowed to enjoy its benefits,” said Paul. Later that year, he also expressed concern that legal immigrants coming in on student visas or as refugees were not being properly screened.

After: Paul is endorsing immigration reform that would allow the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to obtain legalized status. He is against a special "path to citizenship" for illegal immigrants, but open to those immigrants applying for citizenship through the current process. He has said that if immigration reform is completed, he will rethink his position on birthright citizenship.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Before: In a 2010 Republican Senate primary debate, Rubio attacked then-Gov. Charlie Crist on immigration: "If you grant amnesty, as the governor proposes that we do, in any form, whether it's back of the line or so forth, you will destroy any chance we will ever have of having a legal immigration system that works here in America.” In a subsequent debate, he said that illegal immigrants should leave the country and reapply for citizenship from their homelands. While he expressed some reservations about Arizona's controversial immigration legislation, he supported the law after tweaks were made. He opposed the DREAM Act, although he was for some accommodation for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

After: Rubio is now the most high-profile member of a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" working on immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. "After weighing both sides of it I just concluded – that every country that’s done this, that’s had millions of people living in it that are permanently barred from applying for citizenship, it hasn’t worked out really well for them,” he said.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Before: Cantor voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, which would grant permanent residency and a chance for citizenship to some young illegal immigrants. In speaking about immigration, he argued that laws should be "evenly applied."

After: In a highly-publicized speech early last month, Cantor came out in support of "an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home" -- the tenets of the DREAM Act.

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.)

Before: In December 2010, Coffman called the DREAM Act "a nightmare for the American people." He supported ending birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, and he proposed legislation to make Colorado ballots English-only.

After: Coffman now supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and is undecided on how to deal with adults. His congressional district became significantly less Republican and more Hispanic in redistricting, and Coffman has said that meeting some of his new constituents provoked the change of heart.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)

Before: Goodlatte has long been known as an immigration hardliner, earning an A+ rating from the anti-immigration group NumbersUSA. He has supported bills that would limit birthright citizenship, limit family reunification preferences and end the diversity visa lottery.  He was also a vocal opponent of bipartisan "amnesty" legislation in 2007.

After: As the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte has surprised immigration reform advocates. He told reporters at a recent Christian Science Monitor breakfast that he is open to legalization and the possibility of citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)

Before: In 2007, Jordan criticized comprehensive immigration reform. "I cannot think of a more misguided approach to one of the most pressing issues facing our country today," he wrote in an op-ed. "[W]e must reject 'amnesty' for illegal aliens.  Allowing these individuals to enjoy the benefits of American citizenship -- whether through special visas or otherwise -- is nothing less than rewarding their illegal behavior."

After: At a Heritage Foundation panel Wednesday, Jordan said he was "willing to consider" a proposal that would allow illegal immigrants to eventually apply for citizenship.

The Republican National Commitee

Before: The Republican party platform in 2012 promised "humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily, while enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas."

After: The RNC has urged Republicans to embrace comprehensive immigration reform. "One of the issues that I think really cut pretty badly within the Hispanic community is when Mitt Romney talked about self-deportation," Chairman Reince Priebus said on CNN. "And you know, it really doesn't -- it's not our party's position. But it was something that I think hit every kitchen table across America."

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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