A group of Democrats in the House were expected to announce their plans Wednesday on immigration reform.
Rep. Joe Garcia, D-FL, and members of the House Democratic Caucus were to hold a press conference at noon to lay out their immigration bill, although the likelihood House Republican leadership would move it is almost zero.
Despite a government that shut down after the political parties failed to see eye-to-eye on the budget and the Affordable Care Act, bipartisan lawmakers on Tuesday who have worked on immigration expressed optimism that an agreement would come on immigration reform in the late fall.
“The No. 1 question people are asking … is this: Can we get this bill accomplished? And I truly believe we can,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said during the panel of five senators, all who were members of the bipartisan Gang of Eight.
The House and Senate panel discussions on immigration were part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s three-day policy conference this week.
“If the House passes a bill that is not exactly as good as ours, but has a way for a path to citizenship that is different than what we would propose, but still there, we can get together in conference and pass a bill that will make you all proud,” Schumer told the predominantly Latino audience.
Sen. John McCain, the only Republican participating in the Senate panel, said he has been talking to House members with respect for their views while urging them to get to conference.
The path to citizenship crafted by the Gang of Eight is not engraved in stone, he said, adding that he is guardedly optimistic about prospects for legislation.
The Senate passed an immigration reform bill during the summer but has gone nowhere in the House. Instead, Republican House members are working on several bills addressing specific areas of immigration. Democrats too have been working to craft a bill.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has said the House could string the separate Republican bills together in a package, pass them and then take those to conference.
Many have doubted there is time to do that before the year runs out.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. agreed with an earlier comment by McCain that he respects the views of House members, but said “we also need to get to a vote.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said she thinks there is motivation by Republican leaders to move a bill forward, but she was critical of suggestions that there is need to take a slow approach in crafting legislation.
“Give me a break,” Lofgren said. “We have looked at this for decades. We know what we need to do.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said the important thing in the debate is to not draw a line in the sand.
“There are certain things that if they were in the bill or not in the bill, I would walk away,” he said. But he’s trying to be flexible so the issue can get to conference committee.
Immigration reform will take center stage in coming days.
Apart from Wednesday’s announcement, rallies, vigils, protests and more are planned for Saturday across the country in support of an immigration reform legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants, the majority who are Latino.
“There have been (nearly) two million deportations since President Obama’s presidency began,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez said in a call with reporters about the activities. “Millions of children are without parents, families have been separated and destroyed, so we need to continue lifting our voices.”
The lawmakers said the pro comprehensive immigration reform groups have a leg up on their opponents.
“There’s virtually nobody organized against comprehensive immigration reform,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky. “There is no money on the other side of the issue. There is nobody out there ready to spend $100 million against this.”
In recent Capitol meetings with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, Zuckerberg mentioned that he had raised $50 million from friends in high-technology who support immigration reform, adding he would it use for ads supporting those who endorse reform.
Zuckerberg told the lawmakers the donors gave not because of reasons related to the high-tech industry, “they gave for humanitarian reasons,” Yarmuth said.