California Republican Leaders Who Once Voted Against Immigrant Rights, Now Demand Citizenship Pathway

A group of Republican California legislators with a mixed history on immigration reform sent a letter to Congress on Thursday urging the House to pass reform by the end of the year. Most of the lawmakers have a history of opposing immigrant-friendly legislation like allowing undocumented youths a chance to pay in-state tuition for college and granting driver’s licenses to the undocumented population. They now support reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.

State senator Anthony Canella (R-CA) and 14 other California Republican legislators gave a press conference on Thursday urging House members to act on a pathway to citizenship. State senator Andy Vidak (R-CA) separately sent a letter urging the House to make immigration reform and legalization a “top priority.” Canella stated:

This is the same group of Republicans who a few years ago wouldn’t vote for anything that dealt with immigrant rights — driver’s license, DREAM Act. In fact, I was the only member of the Republican party to vote for the DREAM Act. So now we have 15 people in our party who say this is important and they’re putting their neck out… I don’t think this helps us politically at all… It’s not a good move politically, but it’s the right move morally.

The letter is a bold move for some of the Republican lawmakers who did not always support immigrant rights. During the press conference, co-signer State Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-CA) said, “To the Spanish speakers of California: Republicans care about you.”


As recently as May, Chavez voted against two bills that would allow legal immigrants to work as poll workers and another bill that would allow non-citizens to serve on juries. The first bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last month. The second one is still on the governor’s desk. Chavez did not vote to authorize driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and to limit local authority enforcement of federal immigration laws.

State senator Tom Berryhill (R-CA), also a co-signer, has a history of either not voting or voting against bills that would incorporate undocumented immigrants into American society — like prohibiting in-state tuition and driver’s licenses.  Cannella indicated that voting for immigration reform may not be a smart political move, but polls of Latino voters show that is not the case. Latino voters may be willing to vote for Republicans who support immigration reform because at least 49 percent of Latinos have voted Republican at some point in the past. And if anything, the alternative holds true — if Republicans do not act on immigration reform, many Latinos will likely not vote for them.

Currently, 25 House Republicans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But other House Republicans are conflicted over granting legal status to the 11 million immigrants living in the country. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of Republican primary voters support the Senate’s immigration bill which includes a citizenship pathway provision. So while House Republicans are stalling, 53 percent of Republican voters and 54 percent of Democrat voters want to see Congress pass reform by the year’s end.