They lack the stature of the Big Three Republicans in the immigration reform debate: Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham. But just below that senatorial trio, there’s another group of lesser-known GOP lawmakers expected to play an outsize role — both within the party and negotiating with Democrats — as Congress delves into an issue that could consume much of its bandwidth next year.
“Each of them has a unique connection to the issue,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “And they all have the intellect to create a rational compromise.”
Here are POLITICO’s five key Republicans in the immigration debate:
Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador
This freshman with rock-solid conservative credentials is high on the list of likely partners for Democrats on any immigration overhaul. Labrador certainly has the expertise; he practiced immigration law for years and started his own practice. And the Puerto Rico native, who moved to the mainland as a teenager with his single mother, brings a compelling personal tale to the debate.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee
Lee isn’t convinced that tackling immigration reform will improve his party’s standing with Latino voters.
But the freshman, who has quietly made himself a player on immigration in his young Senate tenure, is pressing for reform nonetheless. He says the current system facilitates illegal immigration but makes legal entry into the United States too difficult.
Arizona Sen.-elect Jeff Flake
Flake, the incoming junior senator from a key border state, has a deep background in bipartisan efforts to reform immigration.
The well-known fiscal conservative teamed up with Gutierrez to release a comprehensive proposal five years ago. The so-called STRIVE Act called for increased border security, an employer verification system, a new temporary worker program and a broad set of prerequisites — such as paying fines and back taxes and meeting English proficiency requirements — before undocumented immigrants could become legalized.
Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
Diaz-Balart announced days after the election that he would resume efforts to push immigration reform through Congress — and he’s been talking with congressional Democrats and Republicans to make sure it gets done. His speediness was intentional: Diaz-Balart knows the political will is there now, but that window of opportunity could close fast.
Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte
The 10-term lawmaker is the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration. He, like Labrador, has a background in immigration law.
Goodlatte said one of his goals is to create a “fair immigration system that works for America.” He favors an enforcement-based approach and backs efforts such as E-Verify, an online database that matches information submitted by employees to records from the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.