DENVER (AP) - Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and his Republican challenger clashed over immigration on Wednesday, a day after the House Majority Leader lost his seat in a GOP primary campaign that pivoted on the volatile issue.
The politics of immigration are far different in Colorado, where support from Hispanics is essential to winning statewide, than in the heavily Republican central Virginia seat held by Rep. Eric Cantor, who lost his primary Tuesday night after being hammered for supporting citizenship for people brought to this country illegally as children. But the back-and-forth between Udall and his opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, showed how tangled the issue can become.
Democrats have attacked Gardner for months for not supporting citizenship for most of the 11 million people in the country illegally, in contrast with Udall, who voted for a Senate bill last year to legalize them. Republicans have kept that legislation, touted as a comprehensive effort to fix the nation's immigration system, from coming to a vote in the House of Representatives. The GOP is split between business leaders who support the Senate bill and grassroots activists like the ones who ousted Cantor and oppose any immigration deal.
Gardner last week said that he did support citizenship for people here illegally who served in the military. But he would not give any more specifics about who else should be granted citizenship.
On Wednesday, Udall's campaign issued a statement trying to pin Gardner down.
"What about their families? What would happen to the parents, children, brothers and sisters of immigrant servicemen and women bravely fighting for their country?" State Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) asked in the statement.
Gardner hit back by noting that Udall in 2005 had voted for a bill that would have made being in the U.S. illegally a felony.
"Instead of dealing with this problem in a reasonable and humane manner, Senator Udall was one of just 36 Democrats to vote to make every person living in this country without documentation a felon," Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano said. "Had things gone the way Senator Udall had wanted, these individuals would be facing prison time."
At the time, Udall said he disliked the criminal provisions of the legislation but backed its border security provisions. His campaign provided documentation that showed Udall speaking favorably of citizenship for people here illegally as early as 2007.
Siciliano acknowledged that the proposal Gardner supports to grant citizenship for military service does not address family members.
"This is why Cory has continually said we must work to fix the entire system," he said.
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- By Nicholas Riccardi, AP Writer
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