This is part of a series of reports on first-term Latino members of Congress.
Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., is the chief sponsor of H.R. 15, the Democratic immigration bill introduced in the House in early October during the government shutdown. Garcia spoke with NBC Latino about the bill and its prospects amid House GOP leadership opposition to a comprehensive bill.
Garcia sees the bill he introduced with Democratic leadership backing as one his Republican colleagues also can support. Three GOP members do. According to Rep. Garcia’s office as of last Friday, H.R. 15 had the support of 188 of the 200 Democrats in the House.
“The bill that we put up there isn’t necessarily the bill that I would want – we put it up because it’s a bill that the Republicans can vote on,” Garcia said. “You have to give something that the other side can live with, and we gave them that in this bill.”
The bill essentially duplicates the comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate in June, with an exception. The border security enforcement measures in the Senate bill were removed and a border security bill passed by the House Homeland Security Committee was inserted in its place.
Garcia said he thinks that Rep. Grijalva’s (D-AZ) bill is actually better from a policy standpoint.
Grijalva’s immigration bill does not require additional border fencing, has a slightly shorter wait in the path to citizenship, and does not waive environmental laws near the border. Garcia is a co-sponsor of Grijalva’s bill, but he told NBC Latino that H.R. 15 is the only comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House with bipartisan support.
When asked about Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida walking away from the Senate “Gang of Eight” immigration bill, Garcia expressed appreciation for Rubio’s initial support and effort in passing that bill. The “Gang of Eight” refers to the eight bipartisan senators who crafted the bill.
“What Rubio is doing now is he’s playing commentator. When he had to do it, he did the right thing. Now’s he’s sitting in the stands and watching the game. We thank him for his vision and courage, but now he’s trying to appease certain groups,” Garcia said.
Rubio has been considered by some to be a potential 2016 candidate.
Rubio has said that he’s being “realistic” about what can pass the House on immigration, considering the House GOP’s insistence that it won’t sway from its plan to address immigration in a piecemeal fashion.
Finally, Garcia was asked about what might happen if the House fails to pass comprehensive immigration reform as the administration nears the two millionth deportation.
Garcia said that ball would be in the President’s court.
“In this instance, I will quote Senator Rubio who said earlier this year, ‘we can either do it or he [the president] can do it for us,’” Garcia said. “The power to execute law is the discretion of the executive. The president has been aggressively prosecuting immigration law. I don’t like the strategy, but the president will do what he wants to do.”
Garcia added, “This president has now deported more people than anyone in the history of the republic. It’s not good for our country, it’s not good for the economy, and it’s not good for the people. It’s doing irreparable damage to the fabric of the community… If I can’t get this passed in the House, I hope that the president will go to his lawyers and say, ‘What else can I do?’ We are putting our hearts and souls into passing immigration reform.”
It’s looking increasingly likely that the House won’t get to immigration reform by the end of the year. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told the Washington Post he doesn’t think it will.
But the House could take it up early next year.
Last November Rep. Garcia unseated GOP Rep. David Rivera, who had been under investigation by both the FBI and Internal Revenue Service. According to the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call ratings for the 2014 midterm election, Garcia’s district leans Democratic. President Obama earned 53 percent of the vote in this district in 2012.
Garcia faces re-election after losing staff members who resigned amid allegations of ballot fraud. The race is expected to be competitive. Garcia’s main Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo raised $450,000 in the third quarter according to a report from The Miami Herald.
Adriana Maestas is a senior contributing editor at Politic365 and one of the co-founders of the DailyGrito.com. She resides in California.