In the midst of a government shutdown, House Democrats on Wednesday introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill that creates a pathway to citizenship for America's more than 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The bill, introduced by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA, 12) and other Democratic co-sponsors, is nearly identical to the bipartisan immigration reform package passed by the Senate in June.
Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), said he believes the bill is the direct result of advocates across the country fighting for reform. Benito noted that 160 immigration-related rallies in cities across the country are planned for this weekend to keep up the pressure.
"They're doing what we asked them to do, which is put forward their bill," Benito told Progress Illinois. "We think it's progress in the right direction. It's not perfect, but we believe it's an opportunity for bipartisan negotiations to get the job done."
The Democrat's measure has a slim chance of being called for a vote in the House, as GOP-leaders have previously declined to take up the Senate’s bipartisan legislation and are instead working on immigration reform proposals in a piecemeal fashion. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH, 8) said at the end of June that he would not bring any immigration reform measure up for a full House vote unless a majority of Republicans had already signed off on it.
House Democrats, however, say their legislation would garner enough support to pass if it were simply called for a vote. At least 26 House Republicans have already come out in support of a pathway to citizenship, according to America's Voice, a Washington, D.C.-based group working to advance commonsense immigration reform.
"This bill represents a serious opening offer," America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry said in a statement. "We expect it will rally Democrats and pressure Republicans. It also will lay bare the simple fact that right now – today – the votes exist in the House to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Republicans can either meet Democrats at the negotiating table and share credit for passing reform, or shoulder the responsibility for blocking the best chance at real immigration reform in decades."
Reporter Elise Foley with the Huffington Post asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA,7) spokesman Rory Cooper whether Cantor would pencil in a day to call the bill for a vote, to which he responded, "No."
Nonetheless, Democrats are at least hoping the bill works to keep the heat on Republican leaders to act swiftly on immigration reform.
In addition to immediate legal status and the eventual pathway to citizenship, the proposal includes border and interior enforcement, but removes the Senate bill's controversial Corker-Hoeven amendment. The amendment would double the number of patrol agents at the nation's southern border and require that a 700-mile fence be installed between the U.S. and Mexico borders before undocumented immigrants could earn legal status. It was included in the Senate's immigration package in an effort to boost Republican support for the overall bill.
In place of the Corker-Hoeven amendment, the new proposal includes a bipartisan border security plan, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX, 10) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS, 2), that unanimously passed out of the House Homeland Security Committee in mid-May. The bill, H.R.1417, would set up specific metrics for measuring border security. Under the measure, the Department of Homeland security would be tasked with creating a plan that guarantees an at least 90 percent apprehension rate for illegal border crossing within five years for the full border with Mexico, among other provisions. The measure does not come with a specific price tag just yet.
“This is 100 percent bipartisan. Best of the Senate bill, subtract Corker, and adding the House Homeland Security Committee,” Pelosi said at a news conference Wednesday. “This is not a challenge to the Speaker. One of the criterion we had was that it had be to bipartisan. The Speaker said that he would like to bring something to the floor. We would like to see characteristics like these in his bill.”
U.S. Reps. Judy Chu (D-CA,27), Suzan DelBene (D-WA,1), Joe Garcia (D-FL,26), Steven Horsford (D-NV,4) and Jared Polis (D-CO,2) co-sponsored the bill. U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL,4) has said he would also sign on to it.
The Democrats' proposal comes just about a week after the bipartisan group of seven House members working to craft an immigration reform bill announced that their efforts had stalled because two of the three Republicans left the negotiating table.
Now that a new bill has been introduced in the chamber, Sharry said it's "put up or shut up time for Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the House GOP leadership."
"How they respond to the introduction of this bill will speak volumes," he stressed. "Do they move toward the mainstream and work with Democrats to get immigration reform done? Or do they continue to let extremists in the GOP drive their strategy on immigration and drive the party over the demographic cliff?"
Benito said the immigrant community is not interested in any more political posturing, and instead they want to see results.
"We're going to hold Republicans and Democrats accountable to get the job done," he said. "The democrats have put forward their ideas. We want to see what the Republicans now are going to do. They've been working on pieces of legislation, but they told us during the August recess [that] October would be the month ... October is here and we want to see what Republicans now have to offer."