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Immigration poll puts pressure on Central Valley lawmakers

Republican Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford), a son of Portuguese immigrants, says the House will likely vote on immigration reform by the end of the year.
Republican Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford), a son of Portuguese immigrants, says the House will likely vote on immigration reform by the end of the year.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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A pair of House Republicans from California’s Central Valley appeared at this week’s immigration rally on the National Mall. But immigration activists say that’s not enough: they want them to back comprehensive legislation. Activists on Thursday unveiled a poll showing voters in those lawmakers' districts would support them if they did.

The group America's Voice hired Republican pollsters Magellan Strategies to ask likely voters in the heavily-Latino Central Valley districts of GOP Congressmen Jeff Denham, David Valadao and Devin Nunes whether they support immigration reform. More than 70 percent of voters – and nearly the same number of Republicans – said they back comprehensive immigration legislation that includes a path to citizenship.

Both Denham and Valadao have been among the most outspoken House Republicans supporting immigration reform, even appearing at Tuesday’s rally. But Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice, says activists want the lawmakers to sponsor legislation or sign on to the bill Democrats introduced last week. "Talk is cheap," she says, "and actions are what matter."

Just because his name isn’t on a bill, Valadao says that doesn't mean he’s not actively working on the issue. He says what he's been doing "all along" is trying to find support for immigration reform on his side of the aisle. "It’s been tough, but we’ve been finding members slowly and getting them to the table." Valadao, who's the son of Portuguese immigrants, says nearly every day he'll find "a new member who’d interested in being part of the solution." The Hanford Republican says leadership has promised a vote on the House floor by the end of the year.

But it’s likely to be a series of bills rather than a comprehensive immigration measure as was passed in the Senate. The goal is to get to a conference committee where the Senate bill and bills from the House can be merged. Valadao says the bill introduced last week by House Democrats, based on the Senate bill but without the tougher border enforcement, isn’t likely to go anywhere.

Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of Fresno, who ran for re-election on immigration reform, is more blunt. He says the key to immigration reform is "to stop doing rallies, to stop doing polling and look for solutions." The Democratic House bill? " If you’re talking about partisan legislation, that’s going to go nowhere," he says. "It’s not going to help."

The Magellan poll also asked voters in the Central Valley whether they’d be more or less likely to re-elect their member of Congress if he sponsored an immigration bill. About one-in-five was less likely to vote for the trio of Congressmen, but more than one-in-three said they’d be more likely to cast a ballot in favor of Denham, Valadao and Nunes.

America’s Voice says it plans to do more polling nationwide as a means to persuade members of Congress to support immigration reform. Lynn Tremonte says another Central Valley member is in their sights: Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy, the number three man in House GOP leadership.