Local Republicans -- who have to walk a fine line between a base deeply opposed to illegal immigration and growers with workforce needs -- were cagey when asked for their thoughts on the reform proposals that came out of Washington last week.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators offered a four-pronged plan designed to provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, secure the nation's borders, strengthen employment verification and streamline the legal immigration process.
The proposal wasn't very different from one Obama has long pushed. Obama also is seeking provisional legal status for agricultural workers and those who entered the United States as children. They would have to get in line behind legal immigration applicants before they could apply for lawful permanent residency.
Immigration is a tough issue for politicians who don't want to offend the generally conservative Republicans who dominate the electorate in Kern County, but also don't want to upset Hispanics and growers who hire foreigners because Americans don't want to work in the fields.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, declined an interview request to discuss immigration reform, but emailed a short statement.
"I await to see the specifics of any Senate proposal. If any details are presented, I will review the legislation. We are a nation of immigrants, but we must ensure that our borders are secure and the rule of law is enforced," he said.
The president outlined his proposal extensively at a news conference in Las Vegas last week. The specific components are outlined at: http://tinyurl.com/aoa8jpb.
Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford and a dairy owner, also declined an interview in favor of a written statement.
In it, he said he didn't believe the changes the Obama administration has offered "provide the certainty needed for a long-term solution to our broken immigration system.
"Additionally, any compromise should include a guest-worker program. This is particularly important for the Central Valley."
Growers generally support a guest worker program that would provide temporary labor during the harvest season. It's a critical issue for the local economy. Agriculture is a $5.3 billion industry in Kern County.
Valadao added that he supports "special consideration for those who came to this country undocumented at a young age or those who are willing to serve in our military."
For too long, he said, "the immigration debate has been dominated by extremes on both sides. It is time Congress comes together to address this issue in a mature, responsible way."
Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, declined to discuss the proposals.
"Since coming to Sacramento, I've learned not to comment on a bill until it's in print. I won't discuss this until I know more details," she said in an email.
State Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, released a statement that didn't address any of the specific proposals, but supporting reform generally.
"A number of groups are highly interested in seeing immigration reform," she said. "I'm particularly interested in seeing a fairer legal immigration policy that benefits people who want to come to the U.S. and improve their lives and that of their families."
Kern County Republican Party Chairman Dean Haddock said in a telephone interview that it's long past time to deal with an immigration policy that clearly isn't working for anyone, but he would oppose any changes that allow illegal immigrants to cut in line ahead of immigrants applying to move to the United States lawfully.
He also said it's imperative for the country to do a better job securing its borders.
"Otherwise, it's all for nothing," Haddock said.