Denham Seeks Invite From Obama to Talk Immigration

The Republican has split from his party on the issue but says he's never heard from the president.

Representative Jeff Denham is pictured on March 18, 2015.

Photo: David Banks/Bloomberg

Republican Representative Jeff Denham has split with his party time and again on immigration. Even so, he says he's never heard from President Barack Obama, who has long said changing federal immigration policy is a top priority.

"You would think that someone who has been as vocal about immigration reform, somebody who is actually willing to sign on to the Democrats' bill, would have an invitation to talk about immigration," Denham said at a breakfast Wednesday with Bloomberg reporters and editors. "I would think that if this was a priority for the president he would be reaching out to the members who are actually engaging on policy and on bills in that area."

Denham was the first House Republican to sign onto the 2013 comprehensive immigration overhaul bill, which included a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Denham, who is married to a first generation Mexican-American and represents a California district that is roughly 40 percent Hispanic, has also sponsored a measure to allow otherwise qualified undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship through service in the armed forces.

Prospects for congressional action this year on rewriting the nation’s immigration laws have always been dim. Members of both parties say that’s even more the case after House Republicans lost their bid to use a Homeland Security spending bill to roll back Obama’s orders last year easing deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Denham said today that a border security bill will come to the floor of the House "in a few weeks" and it's likely to bring up other immigration policy issues.

He said he'll push for discussion of related topics, including "should kids who graduate from our high schools at least have a work permit? If we're going to deport these kids, where do you deport them to?"

The House refused during the past two years to consider an immigration bill passed by the Senate, which was similar to the measure Denham co-sponsored, or to offer its own plan. Obama then issued his orders in November protecting about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

While Denham may not have received a meeting with Obama on immigration, the president's staff met with at least 21 groups during a two-month period last year, including representatives of Hispanic, Irish-American, business, labor, agriculture and gay and lesbian organizations, as the White House weighed immigration policy changes.

Obama has never had a strong relationship with Republican congressional leaders, let alone the rank-and-file. But Denham said he expected greater access to the president, especially given his willingness to work with Democrats.

"Quite frankly, going into my third term, it has been disappointing," Denham said. "This has been odd, I think, to see that working on a number of issues that should be very bipartisan, to not have the administration reach out to members of the House."

Heidi Przybyla contributed to this report.