As recently as 2011, Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman wanted to redefine birthright citizenship to exclude children born to parents in the U.S. illegally.
But in the past few months, Coffman has undergone a complete transformation on the subject of immigration reform. In February, he caused a stir when he told a crowd in Aurora, Colo., that he now supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Coffman is one of many staunch conservatives — most recently Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — who have come out in favour of immigration reform that includes some kind of pathway to legal status for the approximately 12 million people currently in the country illegally. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said Tuesday that a bipartisan group of House members is “close” to a deal on immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.
In a recent interview, Coffman told Business Insider that his thinking changed because of his discussions with his constituents.
“As you get more and more into it, you see the need to overhaul it,” Coffman said of the nation’s system of legal immigration.
Coffman, who represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional district, recalled two particular moments that helped move his position on immigration.
One came with a constituent who had served in the Marine Corps. He enlisted as a Canadian citizen, and was seriously wounded while serving in Afghanistan.
Coffman, who served in the U.S. Marines for nearly two years during the Iraq War, realised that his constituent shouldn’t have to endure the long process to naturalization.
“Without citizenship, they’re really relegated to much fewer job opportunities. They can’t ever have a clearance to handle classified material. Nor can they ever become an officer,” Coffman said. “So I thought that part was important.”
The other moment came at that town hall meeting in Aurora, where he heard constituent after constituent talk about how family members and friends feared deportation. Coffman’s district was redrawn in 2011, and his new district includes a higher percentage of Latino constituents. Coffman said hadn’t seen this side of the debate before.
“Yes, they violated immigration laws,” Coffman said. “But certainly, they haven’t violated any criminal laws. And the reality is, they’re not going to self-deport. So the question is, how do you deal with that population? And it really brought me into the middle of the immigration debate.”
Coffman said he feels strongly that immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children should be offered a path to citizenship. He also feels that the adults who brought them here should be given “some legal status” if they have not violated criminal laws.
It’s a debate that Coffman thinks will be crucial for the future of the Republican Party.
“I think it’s important for the Republican Party not to appear anti-immigrant, because I think it’s important to remember that immigration has been vital to the history of this country,” he said.
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