October 2, 2013
WASHINGTON – House Democrats impatient with the pace of immigration legislation in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives introduced their own bill Wednesday that would overhaul the nation's immigration laws.
Congress remained in the grips of the government shutdown on Wednesday. And even when that's resolved, the Democratic bill faces a difficult road in the House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner has refused to consider a similar, comprehensive bill that was passed by the Senate in July.
But Democrats decided to introduce their own immigration bill to get Republicans moving.
"This is not a challenge to the speaker. This is a suggestion," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "The timing (of the introduction) really relates to what hasn't happened. Now we want to rally around comprehensive immigration reform."
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee that oversees much of the immigration legislation moving through that chamber, said the bill introduced by the Democrats on Wednesday "is basically the Senate bill," and made clear that "I strongly oppose the Senate bill."
That came as no surprise to critics of the plan, who say the Democrats' bill has "no chance" of passing the House. Instead, they saw the Democrats' bill as a political ploy to pressure Republicans and show groups advocating for a new immigration law that Democrats are still fighting for one.
"I don't think Nancy Pelosi has any intention of actually passing the bill," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which opposed the Senate bill. "They need to demonstrate to the pro-amnesty folks that the Democrats are still active and still working on it."
The plan laid out by the House Democrats includes most of the immigration bill passed by the Senate in July. It would allow the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants to get a temporary legal status within six months, and apply for U.S. citizenship within 13 years if they pass a criminal background check, pay fines and learn English. The bill would revamp the legal immigration system to allow more high-tech, and lower-skilled immigrants, to enter the country each year.
But the House plan eliminates a $46 billion border security plan that was added to the Senate bill to appease Republicans concerned about future waves of illegal immigration. In its place, the bill adds a proposal by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, that would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a border security strategy that will ensure 100% of the border is being monitored and agents are stopping 90% of people trying to cross it.
Supporters of the bill said they could have filed a purely-Democratic bill. But they decided to include portions of the Senate bill and McCaul's border security bill, which was approved unanimously by the House Homeland Security Committee, in order to show how serious they are about reaching a bipartisan agreement in the House.
"We put a bill that got Marco Rubio to vote on and got Bob Menendez to vote on," said Rep. Joe Garcia, R-Fla., referring to the Republican senator from Florida and the Democratic senator from New Jersey who co-sponsored the Senate immigration bill. "Those are two very extreme political positions, and yet both of them voted on it."
The House has been following a "piecemeal" approach to an immigration plan, considering smaller bills that affect different parts of the country's immigration laws. Along with McCaul's border security plan, the House has advanced bills that add more visas for high-tech workers, low-skilled workers, and expand a program to allow business owners to check the immigration status of new hires.
No House members have filed a bill to deal with the question of how to handle the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants. But House Republican leadership has said they will continue with their bill-by-bill approach instead of an all-encompassing bill like the one passed by the Senate.
"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," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.