California Republicans set to soften stance on immigrants in the country illegally

The California Republican Party voted to soften its stance on immigration Sunday, responding to harsh rhetoric from presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Republicans have been struggling to find a balance between appealing to the Golden State's growing Latino population and satisfying its base of white conservatives. The problem has grown more pressing with Trump, a New York real estate mogul, soaring to the top of the primary polls while advocating a crackdown on illegal immigration.

The changes to the party platform, adopted by state GOP delegates meeting in Anaheim for the party’s semiannual convention, say Republicans “hold diverse views” on “what to do with the millions of people who are currently here illegally.”

The wording of the amendment was altered Sunday, using the phrase “millions of people” rather than the phrase “millions of otherwise law-abiding folks” that was in a version approved Saturday by the platform committee.

Although the new language emphasizes opposition to “amnesty,” it removes the statement that “allowing illegal immigrants to remain in California undermines respect for the law.”

The changes were proposed by a Latino party official from Fresno, Marcelino Valdez, who said they were a reaction to Trump's “offensive” comments on immigrants.

It's important to use “language that is more appealing to California's diverse electorate,” Valdez said.

After the vote, he called it “an anti-Proposition 187 plank,” referring to the controversial 1994 ballot measure that would have prevented immigrants in the country illegally from receiving public services. It was invalidated by federal courts, but not before it helped drive Latinos from the Republican Party.

“This is a monumental day in California politics,” Valdez said, saying he hopes the change will help the party “start winning elections.”

Jon Fleischman, a conservative blogger and party delegate, spoke against the change Saturday, calling it too ambiguous. But he voted for it Sunday after the phrase “otherwise law-abiding folks” was removed.

“You can't be law-abiding while you're breaking the law,” he said.

Valdez said the original language felt contradictory for a party that opposes amnesty for immigrants who are in the country illegally.

“We wanted to get it right,” he said.

Jim Brulte, state party chairman, declined to provide his opinion about the new language on immigration.

“My job is to support the platform that this delegation adopts,” he said.

Harmeet Dhillon, the party’s vice chairperson, said the push for the change came from members of the party, not the leadership.

“It certainly in the short term helps our party better reflect what California is right now,” Dhillon said.

The party’s platform on equal opportunity also was amended, adding support for laws that prohibit discrimination in employment and housing based on “sexual orientation.”

Unchanged were the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion and new taxes.

chris.megerian@latimes.com

Twitter: @chrismegerian

Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATED

6:57 p.m.: This article was updated with additional reporting.

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