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Raul Labrador, Idaho’s first district Republican member of Congress, has been giving some good television. After going mano a mano on Meet the Press (July 7) with the New York Times’ David Brooks, on July 10 he got into it with a whole panel on MSNBC’s WOW.

Topic A being, of course, immigration, on which Labrador has been a significant national figure almost since he arrived in Congress: A Latino Republican with actual expertise in the field.

On WOW, Labrador shot back, “If you want to have a debate on the discussion, we can do that. I actually have my own mind. I was an immigration lawyer for 15 years. I think I know more than you do about immigration and on immigration reform. So let’s not try to insult people when trying to have an honest discussion about what’s happening in America.”

Labrador does in fact have expertise on immigration law. Discerning exactly what he proposes to do about it, however, is trickier.

He has said, “I hope we’re going to get a bill. I think immigration reform is necessary.” The main immigration measure in Congress now is the bill recently passed the Senate (opposed by both of Idaho’s senators); Labrador said he opposes that bill, partly because it would provide legal status for 11 million people not legally in the country, and that it was inadequate on providing security. The bill, House Republican leadership has said, is DOA in that chamber.
In the House, Labrador was for a time part of a Group of Eight (not to be confused with the Senate’s Group) working on a bill there, but in early June he very publicly quit it, citing disagreements over how health care for immigrants would be paid for. He said he would continue to work on the issue.

Blame (or credit) for failure to get a bill passed, he has said, should be placed at the doorstep of the Democrats, not the Republicans. He also said, last weekend on “Meet the Press,” that “If we don’t do it right, politically it’s going to be the death of the Republican Party,”

If all this leaves a little uncertainty about exactly what he would support, here’s his statement on “immigration” from his House web site: “… our top priority needs to be to first secure our nation’s borders and start enforcing the immigration laws already enacted.  To do so we must give our law enforcement officials the resources they need to enforce the laws on the books and secure our borders.  I also believe that undocumented immigrants must return to their country of origin and then reapply to legally come to the United States.   Finally, I believe that we need a guest worker program that actually works because guest workers play an important role in the American economy and more specifically in the state of Idaho.  This guest worker program will not include a pathway to citizenship or amnesty.”

But … Some of that is vague (what are the resources, exactly, law enforcement needs?) and some of it consists of arguments in the debate already shot down politically. The part on immigrants who “return to their country of origin” sounds good, but also about the same as Mitt Romney’s widely mocked “self-deportation” from last year. What a “guest worker program that actually works” would mean specifically is anyone’s guess, but support for a “pathway to citizenship” seems to have enough political support now as to be nearly impossible to dislodge. (And yet, the conservative blog RightWingNews has called him “a little squishy on illegal immigration.”)

For all his televised talking head appearances: Is Labrador a player on immigration, or a tap dancer?

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