When it comes to immigration reform, most in the Nevada delegation want to be sure their constituents know how deeply they care about solving the issue.
Sen. Harry Reid said immigration is his top priority in 2013. Rep. Steven Horsford called immigration reform “the civil and human rights issue of our generation.” Sen. Dean Heller said getting a bill done “sooner rather than later is in everybody’s best interest,” and Rep. Dina Titus said the U.S. has to “fix our immigration system now.”
But the Nevada lawmaker who may end up having the most influence over the immigration reform bill is the one who has, to date, stayed the most silent: Rep. Mark Amodei.
Amodei is the only member of the Nevada delegation who serves on a congressional judiciary committee, which is where immigration legislation will be formed, thanks to a promise from leaders that immigration will be given the full treatment of hearings, markups and amendments — no backroom deals.
That process got under way in the House last week, when the full Judiciary Committee had a day-long hearing on immigration reform. Amodei stayed pretty quiet, listening instead of firing off questions when he was in the committee room.
But in his estimation, immigration is only in the exhibition season, and people should expect to hear from him plenty once the rubber hits the road.
“I expect the first real exchange of words is going to be in the subcommittee,” Amodei said. “So I’ll save my bullets for then.”
Amodei requested to be on Judiciary’s immigration subcommittee to be in the thick of the drafting action he knew would have its moment this Congress. He outranks Rep. Raul Labrador — one of the Republicans seen as crucial to building party support for immigration reform — by one chair. And he approaches the idea of tackling immigration reform with the sort of logic only a representative from rural Nevada could espouse.
“You know, I think of it like public lands bills — this has been rattling around for 15, 20 years? I mean, enough,” Amodei said. “Come on, let’s do something!”
Fair enough. But, many Nevadans might ask, what?
Amodei hasn’t declared himself a fighter for any particular issue. In fact, his views on immigration fall all across the political spectrum.
Like the bulk of the Republicans, he’s for the idea of spending more money on border security and for bringing more temporary labor into the country.
“I’ve always been for improvements in border security,” Amodei said. “And I am not convinced that guest workers are a bad thing. We should have a pathway for people who to come and work. You can’t assume that everyone who comes wants to be a citizen.”
But unlike many members of his party, Amodei is amenable to the idea of a pathway to citizenship — and says an entry program that doesn’t respect the principle of family reunification is a nonstarter.
“I’m willing to look at that — if all you’ve done is broken the immigration law, to be able to earn your way to a state where you can apply for citizenship,” Amodei said. “To come out and say, ‘First and foremost, we’re going to break up your family’? That’s probably not a great first move.”
Being from rural Northern Nevada, Amodei might not seem like the most natural candidate among Nevada lawmakers to take a lead role on issues concerning immigrants, who are clustered more closely in urban Southern Nevada.
But Amodei points out that Hispanics make up 25 percent of his district.
“It’s 1 in 4. No matter how you do the math, that’s a major piece of your constituency, that’s a major interest,” he said. “I think I have as much interest in this as anybody.”