In 2013, GOP Rep. Jeff Denham bucked his party and joined with Democrats to support a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.
“I’m the first Republican,” the Modesto congressman said at the time. “I expect more to come on board.”
Three years later -- with Donald Trump as the incoming president -- Denham is still pushing a path toward citizenship for some undocumented immigrants. He says he will renew his calls for Congress to pass the ENLIST Act, which he authored. The proposal would allow some undocumented residents a pathway to citizenship if they serve in the U.S. armed forces.
“We’ve always had immigrants serving side by side in every war and every conflict,” Denham tells The California Report. "I see no better way to have the best and brightest [undocumented residents] be able to qualify [for citizenship]."
Yet, many people who voted for the incoming president do not see undocumented people of Latino and Hispanic origin as “the best and the brightest.”
That includes Donald Trump himself.
“The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people in the United States,” the president-elect said in 2015. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
Meanwhile, Trump had also said that federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel -- who is overseeing the lawsuit against Trump University -- is biased because “he’s a Mexican.”
So if undocumented Latinos are “the most unwanted” and unable to make good judgments -- as the president-elect says -- can there be popular support to have them serve in the U.S. armed forces?
Denham says that's the wrong question.
"As the media continues to perpetuate a story, that does create some controversy that continues to cause challenges for Congress to be able to have a bipartisan solution,” Denham says. "We need to fix our broken immigration system and have a real debate, a real discussion, without the media coming in and inciting a bias or to push the debate in the wrong direction."
Denham acknowledges Trump hasn’t spoken about his proposed border wall or mass deportation "to great detail," but the three-term congressman says Trump has indicated he likes the idea of the ENLIST Act.
“I’m hoping that the media will engage in that discussion rather than create bias,” Denham says. “Many who cross the border illegally do cause challenges.”
President-elect Trump agrees, and has vowed to rid the country of “bad hombres.”
So, how does one tell the difference between the “unwanted" -- as Trump calls many undocumented -- and what Denham describes as the “best and the brightest?”
“We need to bring people out of the shadows,” Denham says. “That means law enforcement needs to arrest those that are preying on our communities."
Violent crime in the United States is down almost 17 percent from 10 years ago, although higher than the previous year by 3.9 percent, according to the FBI. Meanwhile, there are an estimated 1.9 million undocumented residents who have overstayed visas or committed other low-level crimes throughout the country.
"There are many different challenges facing our immigration system," Denham says. "We have a broken visa system as well."