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Pushed by voters, GOP moderates rebel on immigration

  • In this Tuesday, May 29, 2018 photo, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., shakes hands with band members while attending the 34th Annual Farmworker Student Recognition Ceremony in Homestead, Fla. In a district stretching from upscale Miami suburbs to the Everglades and down the Florida Keys to eccentric Key West, 70 percent of Curbelo’s constituents are Hispanic and nearly half are foreign born. Those are among the highest percentages in the nation, giving many a first-hand stake in Congress’ immigration fight. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky

  • In this Tuesday, May 29, 2018 photo, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., greets graduates while attending the 34th Annual Farmworker Student Recognition Ceremony in Homestead, Fla. In a district stretching from upscale Miami suburbs to the Everglades and down the Florida Keys to eccentric Key West, 70 percent of Curbelo’s constituents are Hispanic and nearly half are foreign born. Those are among the highest percentages in the nation, giving many a first-hand stake in Congress’ immigration fight. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky

  • In this Tuesday, May 29, 2018 photo, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., speaks during an interview in Homestead, Fla. In a district stretching from upscale Miami suburbs to the Everglades and down the Florida Keys to eccentric Key West, 70 percent of Curbelo’s constituents are Hispanic and nearly half are foreign born. Those are among the highest percentages in the nation, giving many a first-hand stake in Congress’ immigration fight. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky



Associated Press
Saturday, June 02, 2018

Cipriano Garza says Rep. Carlos Curbelo is “a decent man, a family man.” He lauds the South Florida Republican for defiantly pushing his party to protect young “Dreamer” immigrants from deportation.

Founder of a nonprofit that helps farm workers, Garza happily hosted Curbelo at a reception honoring high school graduates last week at the massive Homestead-Miami Speedway. But his praise came with a warning about this November’s elections.

“He better do what’s right for the community,” said Garza, 70, himself a former migrant laborer. “If not, he can lose.”

Across the country – from California’s lush Central Valley to suburban Denver to Curbelo’s district of strip malls, farms and the laid-back Florida Keys – moderate Republicans like Curbelo are under hefty pressure to buck their party’s hardline stance on immigration. After years of watching their conservative colleagues in safe districts refuse to budge, the GOP middle is fighting back – mindful that a softer position may be necessary to save their jobs and GOP control of the House.

“Members who have priorities and feel passionate about issues can’t sit back and expect leaders” to address them, Curbelo said. “Because it doesn’t work.”

Curbelo, 38, is seeking a third term from a district that stretches from upscale Miami suburbs to the Everglades and down to eccentric Key West. Seventy percent of his constituents are Hispanic and nearly half are foreign-born. Those are among the highest percentages in the nation, giving many of them a first-hand stake in Congress’ immigration fight.

Curbelo and Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., whose Modesto-area district thrives on agriculture powered by migrant workers, have launched a petition drive that would force House votes on four immigration bills, ranging from liberal to conservative versions. Twenty-three Republicans have signed on, two shy of the number needed to succeed, assuming all Democrats jump aboard.

Another supporter of the rare rebellion by the usually compliant moderates is Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a former Marine who learned Spanish when his district was redrawn to include Denver’s diverse eastern suburbs. In an interview, Coffman expressed frustration over waiting nearly 18 months for House Speaker Paul Ryan to deliver on assurances that Congress would address the issue.

“He was always telling me, ‘It will happen, it will happen.’ I never saw it happen,” Coffman said. “One cannot argue that those of us who signed onto this discharge petition didn’t give leadership time.”

The centrists favor legislation that would protect from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. They back a path to citizenship for these immigrants, who have lived in limbo since President Donald Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, called DACA. Federal courts have blocked its termination for now.

Trying to head off the petition, Ryan, R-Wis., and conservatives are negotiating with the centrists in hopes of finding compromise. Roll calls are on track for later this month, but it will be tough to steer legislation through the House that’s both liberal enough to survive in the more moderate Senate and restrictive enough for Trump to sign into law.

At the speedway, a local economic anchor since Hurricane Andrew shattered the city in 1992, Curbelo didn’t mention his battle in Washington to the graduates. “Our country and our community need you,” he told his audience, some of whom Garza said were DACA recipients.

Curbelo’s district backed Democrat Hillary Clinton by a whopping 16 percentage points in the 2016 presidential race over Trump, who has fanned immigrants’ resentment by repeatedly linking them to crime and job losses.