Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman joined other Republican members of the House in voting to lift the executive order issued by President Obama last year that suspended deportation of undocumented immigrant youth and offered them the opportunity to apply for work permits.
The amendment was attached to a Homeland Security appropriations bill by Iowa Rep. Steve King, a leading hardline opponent to any immigration reform that doesn’t prioritize border security.
The vote comes as debate on Capitol Hill heats up around an immigration-reform proposal written by a bipartisan group of senators that many Republican strategists, reeling from electoral drubbing in 2012, had hoped would win at least enough support on the right to soften the party’s image as unsympathetic to the concerns of ethnic minority and immigrant communities.
The Colorado delegation in the House voted along party lines on the amendment, with all of the Democrats voting against it and all of the Republicans voting for it.
Coffman is running for re-election in a district that was transformed last year when the boundaries were redrawn. For years the state’s deep-red Sixth District was represented by anti-illegal immigration crusader Tom Tancredo and, when he replaced Tancredo in 2008, Coffman adopted much the same rhetoric and policy stances. Now, however, the district constituency is more evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans and includes significant blocs of ethnic-minority and new-immigrant voters.
The change has not been lost on Coffman. In the spring, he told a packed church in Aurora that he now favored providing legal status to undocumented immigrants and pathways to citizenship for their children. It was a dramatic shift for an official who had sought as Colorado secretary of state to root out immigrants who may have been unlawfully registered to vote, who as a lawmaker proposed legislation that would have printed Colorado ballots only in English and who as a candidate supported a proposal to strip citizenship from children born in the United States to undocumented immigrant parents. He said his positions had been altered through contact with immigrant families.
Opposing the King amendment yesterday would have been an easy way for Coffman to demonstrate the sincerity of his new softer approach to immigration and tamp down criticism on the left that his conversion is mere political opportunism that should fail to fool voters.
“Mike Coffman fully embraced the meaning of the word hypocrite today,” said Andy Stone, spokesman for the Democratic Party House Majority PAC. “Clearly, Coffman is trying to have his cake and eat it too – while hoping no one notices.”
Coffman’s office didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.
Immigration reform has stalled for years in Washington, even as the issue attracts an increasing share of attention from the electorate. The President last June issued an executive order to, in effect, enact provisions of the popular DREAM Act proposal. The order deferred deportation for people without criminal records who were brought to the country as children and are high school graduates or whom have served in the military.
Colorado Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, a high-profile supporter of the DREAM Act, said he was shocked by the King Amendment.
“The amendment puts into question the ability of our government to help our most talented young people, who consider the United States home and contribute to our country,” he said in a release.
“I have been proud to have my office help hundreds of DREAMers with their applications for deferred action and cannot support any legislation that would do away with this critically important program. Despite this vote, the deferred action program will continue and my office will continue to help DREAMers with their DACA applications. As always, I continue to urge young people who are eligible for this program to apply for deferred action.”