Sen. Graham Embraces Immigration Reform

Monday, 04 Feb 2013 03:22 PM

By Dan Weil

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It may seem surprising to some in the Republican Party, but South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is a top advocate for immigration reform.

Graham is part of the so-called Gang of Eight senators that released a bipartisan overhaul plan Jan. 28 calling for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Politico reported Monday that some Republicans have a hard time understanding why a GOP senator who hails from a conservative state and could face a tea party challenger in 2014 would risk his re-election chances on an issue as controversial as immigration.

But Graham’s immigration stance isn't so hard to figure out, given his own political strengths across his state and that many Republican leaders in Congress have changed their views on the issues since receiving a thumping from Hispanic voters in the November elections.

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The election results played a large role in Graham's activities. Not long after it was clear why the Republican had lost the election, Graham called Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York to let him know he was interested in forging a bipartisan solution. That effort also has the support of two other influential Republicans, conservative Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Arizona Sen. John McCain.

"There are going to be people who are upset, I understand that," Graham told Politico. "I do believe that people in the Republican Party are beginning to understand the politics of immigration. People do want the borders secured. They want to get this issue behind us, and I think I'm in a good spot to go back home and tell people that now is the time to get this done."

Maybe the reception will be better this time around than it was in 2007 when he was criticized for joining then President George W. Bush in the last immigration reform effort. Politico noted how he was booed and even had the proposal to help ease the path to citizenship for some 3 million illegal immigrants then labeled "Grahamnesty" by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

Signs are, though, that South Carolina Republicans may be changing their views as well. Randy Page, a district GOP chairman in the state, told Politico that Republicans have to adjust to new political realities.

"A number of us, myself included, have looked at the message that the Republican Party has been sending and looking at the message that the Hispanic community sent us in November, and we're started to listen to what Sen. Rubio and Sen. Graham have been saying," he said.

“Looking specifically at Hispanics, most of them support us on other issues, whether social issues or fiscal issues. They're saying, 'We agree with you on life and school choice and so many other things.' But yet we're saying, 'You're not welcome, and we want you to go back and self-deport yourself.' That’s the wrong rhetoric, and it's, frankly, the wrong solution."

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