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Immigration reform: Why many GOP lawmakers applauded Obama speech

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While Obama argued for a path to citizenship for the unauthorized, Labrador recast the problem of citizenship in a way that might appeal to conservative lawmakers, saying what the US needs is not a separate citizenship path for illegal immigrants but rather a smarter legal immigration system that illegal immigrants could access.

“I am opposed to creating a new pathway to citizenship only for the illegal aliens," Labrador said. "If we can reform the immigration system so more people can actually immigrate to the United States, we can allow the people that are here illegally right now to actually take advantage of that existing pathway or whatever new pathways we create.”

Labrador’s ideas on immigration policy could reverberate among vocal conservatives in the House.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R) of Kentucky, who could be straight out of central casting as an immigration reform naysayer, says he is “very interested” in immigration and has learned much from Labrador.

Representative Massie says he’d like to see a functional agricultural worker program and would “like to take the folks that are in the shadows out of the shadows.” He opposes a pathway to citizenship just for illegal immigrants, but he doesn't object to undocumented immigrants obtaining citizenship through the legal immigration process.

Still, getting from goodwill to good legislation will be a long, long road. And Republicans worry that Obama may make it devilishly hard for them to get to yes.

Brady, the Texas congressman, said the president wasn’t “too bad” on antagonizing Republicans Tuesday night. But remember, he cautions, “we’ve got a few more days of his campaign yet. Don’t sell him short.” 

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