SAN ANTONIO — Invoking the spirit of the Alamo, a Republican congressman from Texas with a prominent role in the immigration debate vowed Monday to overcome the political challenges to reform.
“The president’s set you up and you’re going to stick your neck out,” said Rep. John Carter, describing fears he has heard from members of his own party. “I’m kind of like Davy Crockett: They can go to hell and I’ll go to Texas.”
During a luncheon forum with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, with whom Carter serves on an informal bipartisan group studying the issue, Carter pledged to bring a compromise bill to the House floor.
But even as they praised one another, the men acknowledged the political anxieties surrounding their negotiations. President Barack Obama won re-election with broad support from Hispanic voters, which led congressional Democrats to claim there’s a political mandate for a broad overhaul, including a clear path to citizenship for immigrants who live in the United States without legal permission.
Republicans have suggested incremental reforms, but they face an internal party split. The divide comes down to a single question: Which party would newly enfranchised immigrant voters thank?
Carter, for his part, suggested that “free enterprise will bring our share to the Republican Party.”
Gutierrez, though, seemed happy to let bygones be bygones.
“I don’t care how they came to the table,” he said, after noting that Republicans, in his view, had lost the support of Latinos by scapegoating them.
While both men characterized the bill before the Senate as a good start, Carter said its current provisions too closely resemble “amnesty.”
Conservative voters, he said, would not stand for any such program.
“They’re not against the immigration,” he said, “they’re against the lawbreaking.”
Invoking his own history as the son of Puerto Rican natives who arrived in Chicago in 1952 unable to speak English, Gutierrez said the consequences of illegally entering the country should be proportional.
“If I don’t put enough money in the meter, they put a ticket on my car,” he said. “They don’t take my car away.”
Since an executive order halted deportations of children, Gutierrez said, young immigrants have turned their focus to helping parents who crossed the border illegally to earn the right to stay.
Earning that right, he said, should include registering with the authorities, paying fines, learning English and paying taxes.
Carter agreed the legal immigration system is “broken,” but he underscored differences in his party’s approach to the issue.
“It’s very emotional to some,” he said. “But the reality is it’s an economic argument.”
No matter their accord — Gutierrez wore a blue tie; Carter wore a dark red tie — the bipartisan group may be running out of time after four years of behind-the-scenes policy negotiations. The House Judiciary Committee, of which Gutierrez is a member, has announced plans for its own series of bills this week.