WASHINGTON – House Democrats are looking to further pressure majority Republicans on the sensitive issue of immigration reform this week with the launching of a discharge petition to force a vote.
“That’s because we simply have stalled,” caucus chairman Xaiver Becerra (D-Calif.) told reporters Tuesday after a closed-door meeting. “House Republicans have stalled over and over and over again on bringing a bill to the floor. Is there a certain degree of frustration? You’d better believe it. But we’re not nearly as frustrated here on the Democratic side of the House as the American people have been.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said “now’s the time to put a discharge petition on the floor, to force this issue, because there are so many people whose lives are at stake.”
“And I urge every Republican to sign this discharge petition so that we can address this issue and make sure that we move ahead as a country,” Chu added.
Democrats launched a public petition today at Dems.gov/TimeIsNow and the Twitter hashtag #DemandAVote in an attempt to amp up the pressure.
“Today, I am demanding a vote on comprehensive immigration reform legislation,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said this morning after signing the discharge petition on the House floor. “It is time for Speaker Boehner to stop blocking this sensible bipartisan reform, and allow a vote to create jobs, empower our small businesses, fuel innovation, reduce the deficit and energize the economy. It is time for us to fix our broken immigration system, and build a system that respects our history and our values as a nation.”
The effort will almost assuredly fail – Democrats control only 199 seats in the 435-member lower chamber and few if any Republicans are expected to ink the demand, which requires 218 signatures. But the new initiative could draw renewed attention to an issue that has languished over the past few months with GOP lawmakers seemingly unable to reach a consensus.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has expressed a desire to address immigration this session but fellow Republican lawmakers do not appear eager to move ahead, with many expressing a desire to wait until after the November elections, hoping to strike a better deal if Republicans assume control of the Senate.
That wait-and-see attitude is not popular with Latino leaders who have been pushing for consideration.
“House Republican leadership has hidden behind excuse after excuse for why they cannot move forward with immigration reform,” said Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, director of Immigration and Civic Engagement at the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino group. “Political choices have consequences, and how they handle immigration reform in the next ten months will impact the political landscape over the next decade.”
Martinez-De-Castro asserted that Latinos “won’t sit idly by while thousands more family members and friends get deported every day.”
“Our community will continue to pressure House Republicans to act and the White House to intervene in unnecessary deportations,” she said. “We will raise our voice at the voting booth, where we will remember who championed immigration reform and who stood in the way of progress.”
More than 11 million Latinos cast ballots in the 2012 election – mostly for Democrats. The Hispanic vote grew by 15 percent between 2008 and 2012 — compared to 10 percent for African-Americans and minus-two percent for white citizens. Latino voting strength is expected to grow with an average of 880,000 young Latino citizens turning 18 each year and becoming eligible to register.
Democrats are hoping to force a vote on House Resolution 15, legislation similar to the bipartisan reform bill that passed the Senate last year. That measure offers illegal immigrants who have resided in the U.S. since Dec. 13, 2011, an opportunity to seek provisional legal status that allows them to work but renders them ineligible for federal benefits. They must pay a penalty, taxes and a processing fee and can only apply for permanent status after 10 years. A new visa program for low-skilled workers would also be developed.
It also hikes border patrol ranks by 20,000 – almost doubling the contingent at a cost of $30 billion — and adds 350 miles of border fencing. It spends $4.5 billion on technical innovations intended to provide security personnel with full situational awareness along the southern border. And it implements an entry-exit visa program to keep tabs on visitors who overextend their stay as well as the so-called e-verify program to make employers aware of a potential worker’s immigration status.
Boehner, while expressing support for the concept of immigration reform, has been dismissive of the Senate bill and instead has maintained the House will clear its own path. In January the House Republican leadership issued what was characterized as “immigration reform principles,” which included keeping the borders secure, preventing employers from hiring undocumented workers, offering a temporary worker program, overhauling the visa system and providing DREAMERs – those born on foreign soil brought here as children by undocumented parents — with a roadmap to citizenship.
But the effort failed to generate enthusiasm within the Republican caucus. Last month Boehner acknowledged that “it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation” in 2014, although he added that the issue has “been kicked around forever and it needs to be dealt with.”
Perhaps the most significant roadblock to any agreement is what to do with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. President Obama and congressional Democrats insist any reform measure must include some pathway to legal status or citizenship for the undocumented. Many, if not most, Republican lawmakers refuse to support any legislation that smells of amnesty, making it almost impossible to bring the debate to a resolution.
A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in February found that 53 percent of those questioned maintain that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for citizenship. Another 16 percent said they should be allowed to stay but prohibited from attaining citizenship. And 27 percent said undocumented residents should be required to leave.
Appearing at a panel discussion on immigration held at Florida International University in Miami last week, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, said there exists an urgency to move an immigration reform bill because “the Senate bill dies at the end of this session and opportunity to build upon that is gone as well.” She prevailed upon the House Republican leadership to “give us a vote.”
“I believe there is nothing more important that we can do for our country right now than to pass immigration reform – for what it means to people, what it means to our country, what it means to our economy,” Pelosi said. “And when we do that, we will, again, be true to the vows of our founders about to who we are as a country. And again, it has to be bipartisan in order to pass. But we’ve waited long enough. We’ve tried in every bipartisan way possible. This is one other bipartisan tactic that we want to use — members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, ask the Speaker to give us a vote.”
Pelosi told those attending that she is “respectful to the Speaker — I believe that he is a person of good faith on this subject and that he wants to bring up a vote. We need to help him do that.”
There are “about 30 Republicans who would vote for a bill if it came forward,” Pelosi said. She cited a quote from Abraham Lincoln — “public sentiment is everything” – in an effort to mobilize immigration reform supporters to “do everything in our power to go on record.”