LITTLETON, Colo. — It was little surprise when freshman Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in 2010 voted against a bill to grant citizenship to some young illegal immigrants. After all, the Marine Corps veteran had just won the seat in Congress formerly held by firebrand Rep. Tom Tancredo, who had pushed the GOP to take a harsher stance against illegal immigration.
The bill, known as the DREAM Act, died in the Senate.
Now Coffman has changed course. He has introduced legislation to let unauthorized immigrants brought into the country as children earn citizenship if they serve in the military. And he spoke hopefully about an immigration overhaul that a bipartisan group of senators outlined last week.
Since the November elections, many other Republicans nationwide have tempered their tone on immigration — if not reversed course completely — after years of tacking right to appeal to grass-roots activists who dominate GOP primaries.
On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor became the latest high-profile Republican to shift gears. A leader of the conservative caucus and previous opponent of the DREAM Act, Cantor called for allowing illegal immigrants brought here as children to become citizens.
Coffman won re-election by only 2 points and is a top target for Democrats next year. But Coffman says his change of heart is personal: He met a constituent who served as a Marine and lost his legs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. The man was a Canadian immigrant who became a citizen, and his brother joined the military and became a citizen, too. Coffman also recalls a former Spanish tutor telling him about the lack of opportunity for young illegal immigrants.
“For young people who grew up in this country, and don’t know another country, to not be able to serve in the military...” Coffman said, trailing off. He said the broader overhaul “seems to be moving in the right direction.”