DENVER — Hispanic groups showed up outside the Denver GOP’s headquarters Tuesday morning with signs and chants of “si se puede!”
But there was really one Republican lawmaker they seemed to be talking to as they urged House Republicans to bring up the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last week: Congressman Mike Coffman.
“I am in Coffman’s district,” said Ezekiel Ramirez, who was born here after his parents came to the country illegally. “It’s a little bother[some] how he isn’t wanting to support the immigration reform that just passed last week. It’s a little troubling.”
Coffman, who survived his first reelection effort after seeing his district re-drawn last year, is now widely considered to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents in Congress.
Facing a challenge from Democrat Andrew Romanoff, Coffman is also facing some difficult demographics; his new district, unlike the safe GOP seat he first ran for and won in 2008, includes Aurora.
Overall, Hispanics account for about 20 percent of the district’s population and 12 percent of all registered voters.
Earlier this year, Coffman drew national attention with a pivot to the left on immigration issues when he announced he favored a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants: the DREAMers whose parents brought them here.
But after the Senate’s passage last week of a landmark immigration overhaul that includes enhanced border security measures and a 13-year path to citizenship, Coffman echoed the House GOP line that the bill was problematic.
“I appreciate the effort that my colleagues in the Senate have made in trying to fix a badly broken immigration system but I’m still concerned because promises made out of the 1986 immigration reform bill on enforcement and border security were not promises kept,” Coffman said in a statement.
House GOP leaders say they will work on their own bill that focuses on border security but does not include a path to citizenship.
“I will work for solutions in the House that will provide for the reforms necessary to not only secure our borders but to verify that they remain secure,” Coffman continued.
Coffman was not available for an interview on Tuesday, but his office told FOX31 Denver that he has not yet decided about whether he will support a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, a centerpiece of the “Gang of Eight” bill.
But the two dozen immigration reform advocates who spoke at Tuesday’s press conference promised to hold him accountable for how they vote on this issue.
“I’m ready to take action this year and next year to make sure politicians everywhere understand the power that we have,” Ramirez said.
“There’s a lot of people that would support a congressman like him that would support the bill that passed last week.”
And if he votes against a path to citizenship?
“Well, then best of luck,” Ramirez said.
In the Senate, 14 Republicans voted for the Gang of Eight bill, while 32 Republicans voted against it.
Those who supported the measure, including members of the Gang of Eight like Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Utah, argued that broadening the GOP’s base of support with Hispanics is imperative for the party’s long-term success.
Back in November, the day after President Obama’s reelection, Congressman Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, told FOX31 that the GOP would be open to comprehensive immigration reform for that very reason.
“We want to have a big tent, but it doesn’t matter how big your tent is if you don’t have any chairs in it,” Gardner said then.
But now Gardner is adhering to the House GOP position that the Senate bill is unacceptable.
“If we want to have immigration reform, we need to find something the House can agree on and the House will not agree on this,” Gardner told the Denver Post last week.