Hopefuls tread carefully on immigration issues

While the three Republicans seeking the 9th congressional district seat offered predictably conservative answers on many of the party’s core issues at a Thursday forum, one matter revealed more nuance: immigration reform.

Immigration policy has long divided Republicans in Congress, some of whom reject party leaders’ proposals as “amnesty” for the millions in the country without documentation.

But in a district full of farmers – many reliant on temporary immigrant laborers – candidates must balance demands for border security with the reality that many illegal immigrants are already woven into the Pennsylvania workforce.

“I don’t talk to any farmer that doesn’t say we have a shortage of workers,” Rep. Bill Shuster said Thursday at the Indiana candidates’ forum.

It’s a thorny issue: Candidates like Shuster call for stiff penalties on illegal immigrants’ employers and reject anything resembling blanket amnesty for those already here. But calls for mass deportation could be risky for farm- and business-owning constituents, leaving some Republicans to seek a solution that allows for a legal status short of citizenship.

Shuster pointed to electronic workplace verification as an answer, with business owners able to swipe a prospective workers’ card to confirm his or her status. Electronic verification was among several points listed January in a broad House Republican proposal.

Challenger Art Halvorson, who has accused corporations of exaggerating workforce shortages to push for easier access to immigrant employees, stopped short of urging widespread deportation.

“Those that are here illegally need to identify themselves. They need to be placed in a status where they are paying to be here illegally,” he said. “I don’t think there’s enough will to deport people like that, and there are some compassion issues involved.”

Shuster challenger Travis Schooley offered two paths: pay immigrant laborers wages on par with citizens, raising prices but eliminating their hiring advantage; or work within the existing visa system to pair legal laborers with employers.

Regardless of the details, House Republicans have so far failed to advance their version of immigration reform. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, lamented the difficulty he faces herding party members on the issue, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported this week.

“Here’s the attitude: Ohhhh. Don’t make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard,” Boehner said of his colleagues, wincing, the newspaper reported.

Stiles starts unlimited-funds committee

Johnstown Republican and former congressional candidate Larry Stiles, who has jumped around the local political world in recent months, has jumped once again – this time to form a “super PAC” to fund moderates seeking office.

Titled Moderately Speaking, the organization would support Democrats and Republicans who’ve shown a willingness to work with the other side, according to its website. As a super PAC, or political action committee, Moderately Speaking could raise unlimited funds to be spent independently on congressional campaigns.

It’s not yet clear which possible donors Stiles plans to target.

Stiles ran against Keith Rothfus, R-12th District, in this year’s Republican primary but dropped out, citing health concerns. He then became an adviser to Democrat John Hugya’s campaign before leaving to form his super PAC.

In other news:

n Shuster is set to hold a congressional hearing Monday in Altoona, calling government officials and business figures to discuss Environmental Protection Agency water regulations. The hearing is set for 9 a.m. at the Blair County Convention Center.

n Back-to-back Democratic gubernatorial forums are set for broadcast at 6 p.m. Wednesday and 7:30 p.m. Thursday on PCN. Each forum will be followed by a live call-in session, PCN announced.