While it has not been made public by the members themselves, a bipartisan group in the House, including Democratic Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, California Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra, Republican Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, and Republican Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart have been meeting to work out a bipartisan proposal on immigration reform. A bipartisan Senate group as well as President Obama has already put out their proposals, so all eyes are on this group.
“The timeline is not clear, but they are trying to work as hard as they can,” says a Democratic Congressional aide with direct knowledge of the negotiations to NBC Latino. “They would like to have something out before the State of the Union, (February 12th), but they are still deciding among themselves what it would be – it could be confirming they exist, or an announcement of principles, like the Senate did,” says the aide, explaining that it all depends on what the members can decide with each other before then.
One indication that immigration is front and center during this legislative term is the fact that the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee’s first full committee hearing tomorrow is on immigration. The hearing will examine ways to improve the current legal immigration system, as well as the extent to which immigration laws are being enforced. The hearing is chaired by committee chairman Congressman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, and Border Security Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina.
Gowdy, a conservative Southern Republican says any path to legalization for undocumented immigrants must be tied to border security and measures to permanently stop illegal immigration. The conservative Republican did make headlines, however, for rejecting the idea of deporting the nation’s 11 million undocumented and for supporting the Southern Baptist Convention’s endorsement of the DREAM Act.
“In my district, what’s said from the pulpit carries a lot of weight in terms of how we define morality,” Gowdy said.
The recurring question for many immigration reform advocates is whether enough members of the House, particularly in conservative districts with a small percentage of Latino voters, would support such a bill. A recent New York Times analysis found that just 40 of the 232 Republicans in the House come from districts that are more than 20 percent Hispanic, and just 16 Republicans hail from districts that are at least one-third Hispanic. In fact, 84 percent of Republicans in the House are either 20 percent or less Hispanic.
Yet while the composition of a House member’s district is a big factor in future support – or lack of support – for immigration reform, it is not the only factor, according to Nathan Gonzales, Deputy Editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter which covers Congressional issues.
“When it comes to immigration, it is not just about the Latino vote,” says Gonzales. ”I think it is also about other non-Hispanic groups and how they perceive the Republican party.”
In fact, Gonzales says, out of all the issues the House debates this term, including gun control legislation and the debt ceiling, he thinks immigration legislation has the best chance of passing. ”The two parties are interested in reform for two different reasons. Democrats see it as a fairness issue, and for Republicans there is a political component, “says Gonzales. ”Overall, the rhetoric on the Republican side has shifted, and traditional Republican business groups are more open to finding a way to reach an agreement,” he adds.
For the border enforcement part of tomorrow’s hearing, speakers will include Chris Crane, the president of the union representing 7,000 ICE agents, as well as the former head of ICE, Julie Myers Wood, and Muzaffar Chishti, of the Migration Policy Institute, which published a recent report on the costs of border enforcement. On the panel to speak about ways to improve the current immigration system will be San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julián Castro.
Committee chairman Gowdy recently said to a Gannett reporter that the first few immigration hearings would be “fact-finding missions to inform what he hopes will be a Republican-backed immigration reform bill.”
The Congressional Democratic aide said, “In a way this will be a tone setting hearing, and we will be listening carefully to see what tone Republicans are taking on the issue.”