Democrats jumped into the immigration debate with the full force of their leadership and caucus Wednesday, offering their own sweeping bill with the hope it would propel Republicans forward on their own legislation.
“We want to tell our colleagues in the House, Republicans and Democrats, that we’re ready to move,” Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said at a press conference at the Capitol.
The Democratic bill is largely similar to one passed by the Senate in June with an important difference: it dumps the Senate’s provision on border security and replaces it with a border security bill that passed unanimously out of the Republican-controlled House Homeland Security committee.
“This is not just a Democratic dream come true, but a bill that has proven to get bipartisan votes in the Senate and House,” Becerra said.
An e-mail to a spokeswoman for Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, who was one of the sponsors of the Homeland Security Committee border security bill were not immediately returned.
Republicans have passed a handful of separate bills on immigration that Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has said House Republicans could string together and pass rather than handling the issue with a large, all-encompassing bill. House Republicans have repeatedly said they would not take up the Senate bill.
The Democrats’ proposal , which was to be officially introduced Wednesday evening, is not the same legislation a group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House were drafting. That group fell apart recently after two of three remaining Republicans on the panel left the group.
Democrats had been waiting on legislation to come out of that group, but its recent collapse after two Republican members bowed out, left the minority party no choice but to act, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“This is an issue that has the strong support of the American public, that’s why we think we can move forward,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Some Democrats may not like the Senate bill crafted by its bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” but it got support from 68 members in a deeply divided Senate, Hoyer said.
Pelosi said the move is not intended to challenge House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, but says to him “bring something to the floor.” The Democrats’ bill shows what characteristics they’d like to see in immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for immigrants illegally in the U.S, she said.
But Alfonso Aguilar, Executive Director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said the bill filing is “another attempt at playing politics and antagonizing Republicans at a time when we are in a very polarized environment.”
The bill has little chance of being voted on by the House with Republicans calling the shots on legislation.
But Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democratic Network think tank in Washington, said passing the bill is not the point of the Democrats’ move.
“What the Democrats are doing is trying to make clear they are leaning in and taking Republicans at their word that they want an October vote and are willing to accept Republican ideas to move things forward,” Rosenberg said.
Absent from the news conference was Demorcratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, the House’s biggest advocate on immigration reform.
There are aspects of the Senate bill that were not well received by immigration advocates when it was approved in June. Some of those provisions include who qualifies for legalization, border security goals and fines and fees charged for those seeking citizenship.
But Gutierrez, D-Ill., said on the House floor Wednesday morning that he would support the bill even though there are parts of it he doesn’t like.
“I am going to sign on because I want to stand with 200 Democratic colleagues and assert that the Democratic Party is ready to move forward on immigration reform,” Gutierrez said. “The bill that Democrats will put forward is not the perfect bill.”
Announcing the bill Wednesday, leaders put forward a group of Democrats who are not usually in the limelight on the immigration issue for the party but who have worked on it nonetheless. The sponsors were named as Reps. Judy Chu of California; Joe Garcia of Florida; Suzan DelBene of Washington; Jared Polis of Colorado and Steven Horsford of Nevada.