By Stephen Wall
Posted: 12/17/2009 07:09:29 AM PST

Joe Baca’s support for the rights of illegal immigrants could cause him some political damage but isn’t likely to cost him his seat in the House of Representatives, experts said Wednesday.

Baca, D-San Bernardino, joined a group of Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday to introduce a bill that would overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

The measure calls for a path to citizenship for about 12 million illegal immigrants and would scrap the 287(g) program that allows local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Baca’s position gave new ammunition to conservatives and critics of illegal immigration.

“Joe Baca represents a segment of our society that are illegal alien sympathizers and illegal aliens. He doesn’t speak for the American people,” said Raymond Herrera, a 60-year-old Victorville resident who plans to move to Baca’s district to seek his seat in the 2012 election.

Herrera, a Republican, is the leader of We The People California’s Crusader, an anti-illegal immigration group.

While the congressman’s views upset some people, Baca isn’t likely to suffer major political fallout, analysts say.

“Unless he turns out to be a cat burglar or something, he should be in good shape,” said Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont Mc- Kenna College.

Baca represents the 43rd Congressional District, which includes San Bernardino, Colton, Rialto, Fontana, Bloomington and Ontario.

Latinos make up two-thirds of the residents. Democrats outnumber Republicans by a nearly two-to-one margin in voter registration.

Baca, who was first elected to the House in 1999, has received more than 60 percent of the vote in every race since district boundaries changed in 2002.

“He can lose 10 points off that and still be in good shape,” Pitney said. “There may be some people who vote against him because of (immigration), but not enough to change the outcome of an election.”

If anything, Baca’s stance will be popular among Latino voters, he said.

“It solidifies his standing with the Latino community, which is important for any California Democrat, particularly a Latino Democrat,” Pitney said.

Local Republican leaders agree that Baca can afford to take political chances because of the contours of his district.

“It’s very difficult for a Republican to win that district,” said Robert Rego, chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party. “The issue of the introduction of this bill may create some debate, but I don’t think it would be enough to turn this district around.”

Republicans must come up with an alternative solution that deals with immigration in a responsible way without alienating Latino voters, Rego said.

“We need to say, `No Go’ to Joe Baca’s bill,” Rego said. “To just legalize illegal immigrants isn’t the answer. We tried that in the ’80s and it didn’t work.”

Carol Robb, who heads the county Democratic Party, said most of Baca’s constituents agree with him on immigration issues.

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