Frustrated House Democrats Introduce Their Own Immigration Bill

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27:  House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) speaks during a news briefing after a closed caucus meeting June 27, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Various topics were discussed during the briefing including the possible outcomes from the Supreme Court ruling of the Healthcare Reform law.
National Journal
Oct. 2, 2013, 6:21 p.m.

House Demo­crats went pub­lic Wed­nes­day with their frus­tra­tion over Re­pub­lic­ans’ in­ac­tion on im­mig­ra­tion by in­tro­du­cing their own meas­ure that has no chance of go­ing any­where. Their mes­sage was two­fold: To House Speak­er John Boehner, they ef­fect­ively said, “We’re ready. You’re not”; to im­mig­ra­tion-re­form ad­voc­ates who are plan­ning a host of ral­lies in Wash­ing­ton this week­end, they said, “We hear you.”

The Demo­crats are cry­ing foul on what they view as a small group of Re­pub­lic­ans who are block­ing fur­ther ne­go­ti­ations. But their ac­tion is also a ta­cit ad­mis­sion that the bi­par­tis­an ne­go­ti­ations on im­mig­ra­tion in the House have broken down. Now the ac­cus­a­tions can fly.

“We’re stand­ing with this bill. It has broad bi­par­tis­an sup­port. If something doesn’t hap­pen in Con­gress, then I think the only an­swer is that the people in charge of the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives didn’t want it to go any­where,” said Rep. Joa­quin Castro, D-Texas.

Mi­chael Steel, a spokes­man for Boehner, fired back with one of the more em­phat­ic state­ments from House GOP lead­ers that they in­tend to act on im­mig­ra­tion. But first, he said, the cur­rent fisc­al crisis needs to be solved. And there’s no guar­an­tee of that. “Once Wash­ing­ton Demo­crats al­low us to re­open the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, House Re­pub­lic­ans will con­tin­ue to work on com­mon-sense, step-by-step re­forms to our broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem,” Steel said.

The House Demo­crat­ic pro­pos­al is a mir­ror of the com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion-re­form bill passed by the Sen­ate in June, and in­cludes a path to cit­izen­ship. The ma­jor dif­fer­ence is that it swaps out the $46 bil­lion Sen­ate bor­der-se­cur­ity com­pon­ent — which House mem­bers in both parties have de­rided — in fa­vor of a House bor­der-se­cur­ity bill that en­joys wide sup­port, au­thored by House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mi­chael Mc­Caul, R-Texas, and passed un­an­im­ously out of his com­mit­tee.

Both pieces of the House Demo­crat­ic pro­pos­al have bi­par­tis­an sup­port, but the total pack­age does not have any House Re­pub­lic­ans on board.

House Demo­crat­ic Caucus Chair­man Xavi­er Be­cerra, D-Cal­if., said the bill’s in­tro­duc­tion re­flects Demo­crats’ de­sire to do something on im­mig­ra­tion, even if it winds up be­ing a hol­low ges­ture to people who want the is­sue ad­dressed. “Back in Ju­ly, they wanted to in­tro­duce le­gis­la­tion. We said, “˜Wait a minute, give the House work­ing group a chance to do something’,” said Be­cerra, who was a mem­ber of the House’s “Gang of Eight” Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats that had been ne­go­ti­at­ing a broad im­mig­ra­tion bill for sev­er­al years.

“We didn’t pro­duce something as a group,” Be­cerra said of the bi­par­tis­an House “gang,” which broke up a few weeks ago when Reps. John Carter, R-Texas, and Sam John­son, R-Texas, aban­doned the talks over a vari­ety of un­re­lated com­plaints about Pres­id­ent Obama. Rep. Raul Lab­rador, R-Idaho, had left the group earli­er in the year.

The bill in­tro­duc­tion also was in­ten­ded to shore up sup­port from the dozens of im­mig­ra­tion-re­form groups that are plan­ning protests and ral­lies this week­end to call for ac­tion. Those groups — in­clud­ing the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on, United We Dream, Amer­ica’s Voice, and a co­ali­tion of gay-rights ad­voc­ates — ap­plauded the House’s Demo­crats’ bill.

But some of the staunchest sup­port­ers of im­mig­ra­tion re­form are wary of the new move. The Dream Ac­tion Co­ali­tion, a group that has also been crit­ic­al of Pres­id­ent Obama on im­mig­ra­tion, is skep­tic­al that the House Demo­crats’ move is any­thing more than a polit­ic­al ploy. “Un­for­tu­nately, Demo­crats know Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship will not touch any­thing be­ing led by [Minor­ity] Lead­er [Nancy] Pelosi,” the group said in a state­ment.

The idea that the House could move ahead on something as con­ten­tious and dif­fi­cult as im­mig­ra­tion re­form was be­ing touted un­der the cloud of a gov­ern­ment shut­down. Pelosi re­peatedly said that the im­mig­ra­tion bill was a bi­par­tis­an one. But there are no Re­pub­lic­an co­spon­sors as of this writ­ing. “This is not a chal­lenge to the speak­er, this is a sug­ges­tion,” Pelosi said. “The speak­er has said he’s go­ing to bring something to the floor. We’d like it to have the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form.”

Boehner has re­peatedly stated that he will not bring any­thing like the Sen­ate-passed bill to the House floor. He is fa­cing op­pos­i­tion with­in his own caucus from bring­ing any type of im­mig­ra­tion bill to the floor, no mat­ter how con­ser­vat­ive, for fear that it will push a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee with the Sen­ate that would re­quire the Re­pub­lic­ans to leg­al­ize un­au­thor­ized im­mig­rants.

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