(At right, file photo of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-CA. Photo/ Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

House Democrats gain CA Republican Jeff Denham as co-sponsor on immigration bill

Advocates of immigration reform were quick to respond to the news that California Republican congressman Jeff Denham had become the first Republican to co-sponsor a recently-drafted immigration reform bill by House Democrats.

“By signing on to H.R. 15, Rep. Denham is solidifying his support for congressional action this year,” said in a statement Ben Monterroso, from the group Mi Familia Vota,  a group which has been actively mobilizing the community to put pressure on Congress to pass legislation this year. “What he has done is remarkable…We look forward to seeing other Republicans sign on to this bipartisan bill in the coming days.”

Homero Mejia, executive director of Congregations Building Community, part of PICO California, the state’s largest grassroots congregation-based community-organizing network in California, said Denham was “taking a bold and courageous step towards making reform a reality for the 11 million aspiring  Americans currently living in this country.”

The National Immigration Forum’s Ali Noorani told the Washington Post that Denham’s decision was a “major development.”

Denham’s district is 40 percent Hispanic, and his wife is Latina.  Denham recently joined Texas Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro in a PSA urging Democrats and Republicans to come together to back immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

Denham’s support points to the fact that supporting immigration legislation, especially in heavily-Latino districts, is increasingly correlated with electoral survival for Republican legislators, especially in states like California. University of Washington and Latino Decisions political scientist Matt Barreto recently pointed out that analyses show California essentially turned blue after voters, especially Latino voters, dropped Republican support following the anti-immigration measure Prop 187.

Speaking to Jorge Ramos in Univision’s Al Punto for this Sunday, Denham said “I’m going to continue to encourage more and more Republicans to come on board.”

House Democrats like Illinois congressman Luis Gutierrez and Florida freshman congressman Joe Garcia have said the bill that Denham is co-sponsoring should be able to garner bipartisan support. The bill mainly takes the Senate immigration bill and adds an additional border security component.

Denham’s announcement comes as there is increasing pressure from immigration reform proponents as well as the President for the House to tackle immigration legislation. Only 19 legislative days remain in the congressional year.

Flanked by immigration supporters, Obama made a push last week for legislation, saying that as immigration reform has gained support from bipartisan legislators, business people and religious leaders, those who are opposed have to explain why.

After the shutdown, some Republican legislators like Raul Labrador expressed skepticism that the House would sit down and negotiate with Democrats on reform.  Others, like House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte, said that the House was committed to legislation but through step-by-step bills tackling certain aspects of immigration legislation and not a sweeping bill like the Senate passed.

RELATED: GOP is taking immigration step-by- step

A Republican aide reached Sunday said “it would be irresponsible of the House to consider an Obamacare-style bill that no one understands.”

The aide said the House remains dedicated to the step-by-step approach.

NBC Latino Political Editor Suzanne Gamboa contributed to this report. 

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