Rep. Jeff Denham of California, one of the key Republican players in the House debate over immigration reform, insists that Speaker John Boehner and the GOP leadership will hold a vote on the issue before most of the primaries are held later this year.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Denham — who has been one of the most active participants in the immigration debate — said Boehner's commitment to an early vote on immigration trumped all the speculation in the media that the leadership would delay such a vote.
The reason for a delay, pundits claim, would be to avoid fueling primary opponents to GOP incumbents who end up supporting the still-unfinished immigration bill.
"Right now, the leadership has made resolving the immigration crisis a principle — part of our agenda — and made a commitment for a vote this year," said Denham, whose Central California district's population is 40 percent Latino.
Earlier this month, Boehner seemed to throw cold water on the chances of immigration reform passing this year.
"There's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. It's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes," said Boehner, a week after giving GOP House members a statement of principles on how to proceed on immigration reform.
Denham said that an early vote on immigration reform "bodes well for secure borders, and that's a core principle" of Republican House members. "It also bodes well for verifying who has jobs and who doesn't."
Denham was referring to the two pieces of legislation that are most likely to be dealt with earliest in the House's "one-step-at-a-time" approach to immigration reform.
In sharp contrast to the Democratic-controlled Senate, which last year passed a "comprehensive" package that includes all measures dealing with immigration in one bill, the Republican-controlled House has made clear it will take an incremental approach to the issue: crafting and voting on several bills dealing with different parts of the issue, such as border security and verifying who has jobs.
"As we are seeing in the Senate version, the 'comprehensive' bill was rushed through, and there are several problems with it," Denham said.
One of the problems that is cited increasingly by conservatives is how to deal with the payment of back taxes by immigrants in the United States illegally.
Former Republican Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma told Newsmax that "the Senate version requires [illegal immigrants] seeking citizenship to pay back taxes only if they have already been assessed for back taxes by the federal government. If someone has not filed a tax return, and has therefore not been assessed, he or she is in the clear."
Denham said this problem is almost sure to be resolved when the House works out its legislation dealing with tax responsibilities by those seeking citizenship.
"It only makes sense to say that if you are going to be a citizen, you have to fulfill your responsibilities of paying taxes you owe," he said.
Denham also repeated his passionate commitment to enactment of his own Enlist Act, which permits illegal immigrants who enlist in the armed forces to obtain citizenship while in uniform.
"I'm not waiting to get this in an immigration bill," said Denham, a Desert Storm U.S. Air Force veteran, adding that he planned to bring the Enlist Act to life as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. That legislation is now being crafted in the House Armed Services Committee chaired by GOP Rep. Buck McKeon of California.
Voicing confidence that the incremental approach of his fellow House Republicans will lead to immigration reform sometime this year, Denham said, "We just need members of Congress who are more focused on being leaders than on the next campaign."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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