Democrats Will Try to Force a Vote on Immigration Reform. Here’s Why It Matters.

The effort will likely go nowhere procedurally, but lawmakers want to keep the pressure on Republicans.

A boys shows a US flag as President Barack Obama speaks on immigration at the Chamizal National Memorial on May 10, 2011 in El Paso, Texas.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
March 26, 2014, 2:31 a.m.

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.”

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