Can GOP neutralize immigration as election issue?

By Nicholas Riccardi

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 10 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Some who question his sincerity note that last year Coffman voted to end Obama's policy of granting work permits to people brought to the country illegally when they were young. The step could have led to deporting some of the people Coffman wants to aid in his military bill. Coffman said he objected to Obama's putting the program in place on his own, and that he preferred Congress act.

"He's saying the right things and we welcome that," said Jesus Altamirano of the National Council of La Raza. "But he's telling us one thing and voting another."

Coffman remains a member of the Immigration Reform Caucus, a group founded by Tancredo that is steered by Republican congressmen who have been vocal opponents of letting those in the country illegally gain citizenship.

Support for a path to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally is popular in Colorado. A recent poll showed 59 percent of the state's voters back it.

Republicans in other high-immigrant districts might be even more vulnerable. In California, U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham and David Valadao have signed on to a Democratic resolution urging House passage of the Senate's immigration bill. Denham announced his support on Spanish-language television.

Frank Sharry of the Washington-based immigration advocacy group America's Voice said the issue will be more formidable in 2016, when the presidential election is expected to bring out more Hispanic voters and there will be a clearer contrast on the issue.

But Sharry said that Republicans like Coffman are fair game. The message to immigrant and Hispanic voters, Sharry said, will be: "He's ineffective. He can't get his party to stop screwing you."

Izzy Santa of the Republican National Committee scoffed at the notion that immigration could be used against Coffman and others. "They're the members who are trying to move the issue forward," Santa said.

Republicans are going after Coffman's Democratic challenger, former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, on the issue.

The National Republican Congressional Committee released a Web ad last year chiding Romanoff for helping pass legislation in 2006 that Democrats boasted was the toughest package against illegal immigration in the country. The proposals barred people here illegally from receiving nonemergency benefits, and were criticized by some Republicans for not being stringent enough.

Democrats are frustrated at the attack. They say Romanoff has long supported immigration reform.

Follow Nicholas Riccardi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NickRiccardi.

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