Just last month, Capitol Hill Democrats—very purposefully—gave Republicans plenty of space to have an internal discussion over immigration reform. Not anymore.
With the prospects of passing comprehensive reform this year not looking very good, Democrats want to kick the pressure up a notch on their Republican counterparts. Democrats will file a discharge petition Wednesday in an attempt to force a vote on the House version of the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last summer.
That effort will likely go nowhere procedurally, but advocates view the mechanism as a push to Republican leadership and as a chance to get lawmakers on the record.
"It's time for our Republican leadership in the House to give us a vote," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra. "Stop blocking a vote, let us have a path to fix our broken immigration system."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office on Tuesday highlighted a new Congressional Budget Office estimate that the House version of the comprehensive bill that passed the Senate would reduce the deficit by $200 billion over 10 years. (That's no big surprise, given that CBO found the Senate bill would also reduce the deficit.)
Immigration activists have already taken up aggressive tactics, such as confronting House Speaker John Boehner during his breakfast and storming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's Arlington, Va., condo. But back when House Republicans unveiled their immigration principles last month, Democrats remained tepid so that Republicans could try and push immigration reform among their own members. Since then, Republicans have downplayed reform moving ahead—despite Boehner still saying it's important that it happen.
Now, President Obama is reaching out to members of Congress and activists who have been calling on his administration to curb deportations. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met with Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez for the first time Tuesday. While potential changes to deportation enforcement were not discussed, Johnson has been directed to review his agency's approach.
"It is clear to me they are preparing for the worst-case scenario if the Republicans don't act," Gutierrez said.
This discharge petition stands little chance of actually forcing a vote. Even the Republicans who have signed on as cosponsors of the comprehensive immigration bill aren't endorsing it. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, one of just three Republicans who have actually signed onto the House immigration bill, says she won't be signing the discharge petition as a matter of principle. But she's not speaking out against the effort, either.
"I don't blame them for using it. I think it's good, a powerful tool," she said. "For every issue, you use every vehicle available to you."
Democrats are calling on the public to support the discharge petition, and outside organizations will be utilizing it in their advocacy.
"That's much better from an organizing perspective," Jeff Hauser of the AFL-CIO said of signing the petition. "Those working with immigrant communities, it allows us to know who are our friends and who are our enemies."
This article appears in the March 26, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.
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