Photo: Representative Raul Labrador
Representative Raul Labrador, a Tea Party forerunner and former immigration lawyer from Puerto Rico, has been getting together with Republicans to design what he calls a “conservative consensus” for immigration policy. Like Obama he advocates border enforcement and harsh punishments for the employers that knowingly hire illegal immigrants. His policy ideas seem pretty run-of-the-mill, with one difference: he doesn’t believe in providing a way to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already living in the United States.
Despite his Hispanic origins, he doesn’t respond to ties with immigration rights groups, nor does he plan to stick to the same old conservative agenda. “The left claims that Republicans hate Hispanics, which is just the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard, and the right just claims all we need to do is close the borders and do nothing else, which is also ridiculous,” he said last week.
Tea Party Boise president Russ Smerz pointed out that Labrador’s former practice in immigration law makes him an ideal candidate to put together a GOP immigration plan. “His background and professional knowledge being an immigration attorney provides him with the credibility to make him as expert in this area.” Idaho’s Community Action Network immigration policy director Leo Morales said in agreement with Smerz, “The fact that he is an immigration attorney means that he understands it better than other members of Congress, and he’s able to take a more practical approach to the immigration issue.”
Labrador was criticized for the manner in which he voted while serving his term in the House. On a bill to make English the state’s official language, he voted yes. In a bill to deny state benefits to illegal immigrants, unlike most of the state Republicans, he voted no. When commenting on his often talked-about policy decisions, he explained, “My job was to represent people, who, for the most part, had done bad things. In immigration, my job was to help them get straight, to go through the legal immigration system.” He also says that as an attorney, he had sent “hundreds” of illegal immigrant clients back to their home countries from where they could reapply the right way, adding “I have never shied away from that. I have represented some bad people.” But when asked whether or not his former occupation would stunt his effectiveness in conservative immigration policy, the representative answered, “Everybody knows that I’m to the right of everybody on most issues. That’s something people are learning here. They could come to Washington and say, ‘Oh, he’s liberal because he’s an immigration lawyer.’ Well that didn’t work because they’d seen me work in state Legislature for four years; they’d seen my forceful advocacy for conservative values in all issues.”
His guest worker program is not a conservative favorite. But then again, his refusal to offer citizenship provisions for illegal immigrants already in the country fits right up the GOP alley. Why the dichotomy?
“We can’t just give people a pathway. That’s just out of question. But then some people want to do only enforcement. We have to do the enforcement and the guest worker program; that’s the only way it’s going to pass Congress and be accepted by the American people.” While some, including Morales, question the likelihood that millions would actually self-deport, Labrador argues that when it’s the only option, it’s the best option. “There is some fear that that’s not likely, but if you have a carrot-and-stick approach, it will work. You say: Those of you that come out of the shadows and apply for this system and go back home will be able to apply for this. If we have to come find you, you’re done; there will be no opportunity for you to apply.”