Rep. Raul Labrador Emerges as GOP Point Man on Immigration Reform

Republican wants to educate members before House introduces bill on immigration.

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, a former immigration lawyer, has helped craft House Republicans' immigration reform proposals.

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, a former immigration lawyer, has helped craft House Republicans' immigration reform proposals.

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In the Senate, a comprehensive immigration bill has been filed, hearings are underway and lawmakers have already begun debating the merits of the law in the public spotlight.

In the Republican-controlled House, however, lawmakers are taking a more calculated approach.

"I think the Senate is in a hurry to make history. And I think we are in a hurry to getting it done right," Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told reporters during a meeting with conservative Republicans Wednesday.

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Labrador not only has experience as an immigration lawyer back home, but is a member of a bipartisan group of congressmen that is working behind the scenes to craft legislation that both bolsters border security enough to attract Republican support and provides some sort of gateway to citizenship to the country's 11 million immigrants who are here illegally.

Labrador is a relatively new voice for the immigration working group that has been meeting for more than three years, but his tea party credentials and legal expertise has made him a vital resource for fellow members trying to understand the issue.

"Out of all the members of Congress, I think he understands this issue the most. He is going to be one of the saving graces in the House to address this broken system we have," says Brad Bailey, a conservative immigration advocate. "He will be able to educate other members of Congress on what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to our current system."

And Labrador's background makes him a peculiar messenger. Labrador immigrated from Puerto Rico, but he represents the panhandle of Idaho, a state not well-known for its strong Latino influence. Fewer than 10 percent of residents in his district are Hispanic.

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Fellow lawmakers liken his role to that of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., during the budget debate. Labrador is not only a policy wonk, but someone who wants to explain the system to his fellow lawmakers.

But Labrador isn't acting alone to bridge the wide gaps in the Republican party before legislation is unveiled.

Part of the strategy is to bring the freshman and sophomore GOP members who missed the last round of immigration reform fights of 2007 up to speed and educate more senior members who dismissed the debate six years.

Since February, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., have been hosting educational briefings for nearly 100 members to discuss different types of visas and immigration trends.

"This should be an issue that is given the proper time, to be developed and be discussed. To have input, not just from the working group, but from every member of our conference," one GOP leadership aide noted. "Steady goes the ship is a good way to go."

[READ: Immigration Bill Signals Promise for Senate, GOP]

Ryan has also been out lending a hand to immigration reform efforts in the House. During a speech this week in Chicago, the chairman of the budget committee publicly threw his support behind GOP efforts to reform the country's "broken immigration system."

Ryan appeared alongside long-time immigration reform advocate Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, R- Ill., but his support is nothing new.

"Paul and I have discussed immigration for a long time. We discussed it when he was the Vice Presidential candidate, and we actually discussed it before he was the Vice Presidential candidate," Labrador says. "He understands that we need a guest worker program that works. and we need to make sure that we have the triggers in place for border security."

But everyone agrees it will take more than any one person to convince some members of the party to move ahead.

"I don't know that anyone supporting an issue convinces anybody else, but it just lends to the conversation so we can continue to talk about what is necessary to avoid having to be here 10 years from now," Labrador says.

[POLL: Undocumented Immigrants Closely Tied to the U.S.]