BOISE -- Politico has named Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador one of the "five Republicans who matter on immigration."
Politico reports the lesser-known GOP lawmaker is expected to play an outsize role "both within the party and negotiating with Democrats" as Congress likely takes up immigration reform next year.
"I think the fact that I practiced immigration law for 15 years, the fact that I have solid conservative credentials here in Washington, D.C., and the fact that I've been working on the issue for two years with my colleagues on the House side, I think all of those things give me the ability and credibility to do something positive on immigration," said Labrador.
Labrador says he's been working with members of the GOP on a conservative consensus on immigration and he believes the party will come to an agreement.
"As Republicans we need to be for something and not against something," said Labrador. "For a long time we have been defined as the party against illegal immigration and I think most Americans are against illegal immigration. But I think we should be more defined as the party that's for legal immigration. That we're for actually fixing the problem that we have with the immigration system."
Labrador says his efforts are not the result of the Republican Party losing the Hispanic vote in 2012.
"I think what the elections did do is maybe expedite the moment where we're going to tackle the issue. And instead of waiting, we're actually going to tackle the issue much more soon," said Labrador.
Democrats indicate they favor a comprehensive package that would include a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in America. Labrador disagrees with that approach.
"I'm against a pathway to citizenship for people who are here illegally mostly because I don't think people should be rewarded for illegal activity," said Labrador. "I think we need to figure out what we do with the 12 million people who are here. I think we can create a guest worker program that works for them. I think we can allow them to apply for that guest worker program after they pay a penalty and they do the things they need to do to get right with the law, but I think providing them with citizenship makes a mockery of our citizenship."
Labrador believes a comprehensive bill would only create more gridlock.
"We know what's wrong with the immigration system," said Labrador. "We know what's wrong with our border security. We can have separate bills that deal with all those issues. But I don't think we need to have one big bill that will actually become a stumbling block for members of Congress to actually get this done."
Politico says Labrador brings a compelling personal tale to the immigration debate. He is a native of Puerto Rico and moved to the mainland as a teenager with his single mother.
Last month Labrador sponsored the STEM Jobs Act, which would allow permanent residency to foreign students with advanced degrees in science and technology from U.S. colleges and universities. It passed in the House, but was blocked in the Senate.