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U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney recently told a group of constituents, most of them Latinos, at the First Baptist Church in Gaffney, South Carolina, that he as well as other fellow Republicans favor some opportunity for legal status for undocumented immigrants, but that a lack of trust in President Obama keeps them from moving forward with immigration reform.
It is a message that Republicans have been repeating the last few weeks, as advocates of comprehensive immigration reform continue to press for an overhaul of the system and warn that Latinos will remember their inaction when they vote in this year’s elections.
But Mulvaney’s comments came with a twist.
The Tea Party favorite, known for consistently voting conservatively, held his town hall meeting in Spanish, according to The New York Times.
“We are afraid that if we reach an agreement, [Obama] will take the parts he likes and he won’t take the parts that he doesn’t like,” Mulvaney told the crowd.
Last June, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill that called for, among other things, boosting the security at the border, expanding foreign work visas and providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet a strict set of criteria. But efforts to reform the system stalled in the House, where a conservative faction of Republicans – who have the majority in that chamber – are firmly opposed to giving a break to undocumented immigrants.
Mulvaney’s district is solidly Republican, but like many in his party, his district includes business owners who rely on immigrant labor and want an overhaul of immigration laws that would expand the foreign-born workers who may work in this country.
Moreover, the Latino population is growing in South Carolina, as it is in many other part of the region, gradually changing the demographics of political constituencies.
“We are not insignificant,” said Victor Prieto, a Southern Baptist minister and university professor, according to the Times.
Mulvaney stressed that he does not favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, just a form of legal status, the Times said. What he meant by legal status, however, is unclear.
“I am more than willing to have a discussion about allowing at least part of the 11 million people here illegally to have some type of status,” he said. “I’m just disappointed that more people in my party don’t want to do that.”
He, like other Republicans, expressed dismay over Obama’s executive action changes to the health care law, and said the party is concerned that he would do something similar with immigration. Many Republicans have said they do not trust the President not to implement enforcement provisions of any immigration reform legislation.
Obama and many Democrats charge that Republicans are grasping for an excuse for why they are not working on a reform bill that would overhaul the system.
“If I worry he would selectively enforce the law, it throws a cold shower on the whole immigration discussion,” Mulvaney told the newspaper.
Tea Party members, meanwhile, are watching Mulvaney’s moves on immigration reform.
“If Mick Mulvaney would come out tomorrow to do immigration reform, somebody from the Tea Party would challenge him,” said Karen Martin, a founder of the Tea Party group in Mulvaney’s district, according to the Times.
“Mick Mulvaney is just not going to come out for immigration reform,” she said. “He is not going to push for something people in his district see as a threat.”