Nine months ago Darrell Issa, a Republican congressman, was working on a bill that would give undocumented immigrants provisional legal status in the US for six years, a significant step towards bringing them “out of the shadows” by removing the threat of deportation.
By this week he had a different priority. He urged President Barack Obama to end an immigrant-friendly programme the administration created in 2012, which used executive powers to suspend the deportation of undocumented migrants who arrived as children, but stopped short of giving them legal status.
In a letter to the president signed by 34 other Republicans, Mr Issa said the 2012 programme “rewards families and individuals who have broken our laws, further encouraging others to seek similar benefits”.
Mr Issa’s switch – from trying to end deportations to in effect asking for more – speaks volumes about how his party in the House of Representatives has shifted further right on immigration, partly due to the influx of child migrants across the southwestern border of the US.
A “hell, no” caucus of staunch conservatives remains as opposed to immigration reform as it always has been, but among the rest of the party what little sympathy there was for undocumented immigrants – or illegal aliens, as some call them – is evaporating. It is a change that is not likely to help Republicans regain the White House in 2016: in a scathing internal report after the 2012 poll, party leaders concluded that it was essential to woo Hispanic voters.
Mr Issa, a partisan warrior who is always attuned to shifting currents in his party, has not been left behind. Even though he represents a California district where 26 per cent of the population is Hispanic – many of them US citizens who see immigration policy as a proxy for broader Republican attitudes towards them – other forces are at play.
He blamed the president’s 2012 programme for creating the border crisis by giving would-be migrants hope that they would be allowed to stay. “The perception of eventual legal status has been generated through your administrative actions,” he wrote.
The president, he complained, was overstretching his executive powers and selectively enforcing the law.
A spokesman for Mr Issa said he remained in favour of Congress passing a comprehensive bill to reform the US immigration system. But he said: “The congressman is upset and disappointed that the president has not delivered the kind of enforcement he said he would.”