(People rally in support of immigration reform October 8, 2013 on the National Mall in Washington DC. Photo: Chris Kleponis/AFP/Getty Images)

Immigration advocates push for sweeping reform; Rubio aide says be ‘realistic’ on legislation

Democrats and advocates are stepping up the pressure to get House Republicans to move on immigration reform, but aides to one of the senators who helped draft the Senate’s bill said it may be time to move on parts of immigration where there is consensus.

Alex Burgos, a spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in order to make progress on immigration, “we need to be realistic in our expectations.” Rubio was one of the so-called “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of senators.

“An ‘all or nothing’ strategy on immigration reform would result in nothing,” Burgos said. “What is keeping us from progress on a series of immigration issues on which there is strong consensus is the fear that a conference committee on a limited bill will be used to negotiate a comprehensive one. We should take that option off the table so that we can begin to move on things we agree on.”

A couple of the issues the House has yet to move on is what to do about the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally and the young immigrants who accompanied their parents when they arrived illegally or were with them when they stayed beyond the time allowed on their visas. Many of those young children have spent most of their lives in this country.

GOP Rep. Jeff Denham of California, acknowledged in a call with reporters Monday that the Senate bill will never get a vote in the House. But he said it’s important for the House to address all aspects of immigration.

“If House leadership decides to bring it up piecemeal it’s important we discuss all issues in that process so we strengthen our hand when we go to conference,” Denham said.

The bill passed by the Senate, which Rubio voted for, envisions a 10-year march toward legal permanent residence, which a person must have before becoming a citizen three years later.

In that time, the immigrant would have to learn English, learn U.S. history, pay a fine, fees and back taxes if owed, remain employed and pass a background check. A backlog of legal immigrant applications in place before enactment of the bill would have to have cleared as well.

Republicans have yet to lay out their plan, although have said they are working on bills.

Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has spoken in favor of giving legal status to immigrants in the country illegally and allowing them to use any of three existing channels in the law to become citizens – sponsorship via marriage, employment, or a relative. However, critics say those channels bar from citizenship for several years anyone who has entered the country illegally.

America’s Voice executive director Frank Sharry has been critical in the past of what he has said are vague Republican references to achieving immigration reform without providing details. He has badgered House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leadership to put something on the table.

“Any proposal will be measured by our yardsticks: the legalization proposal needs to be immediate and inclusive, and the path to citizenship, whatever the policy architecture, needs to be achievable and clear,” Sharry said in a September statement.

Over the weekend, Denham endorsed the House Democrats’ immigration bill which is essentially the Senate bill with its border security section substituted with a Republican border security measure passed by the House Homeland Security Committee.

A watch is on to see whether other Republicans will follow suit. Nevada Republican Joe Heck on Friday criticized members of his party for not moving forward on immigration reform. And on Monday, immigration reform advocates were circulating an interview with Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., in which he said he’d like to have “one single pathway to citizenship for everyone that no one would be blocked from, unless they do something criminal or something of that nature.” A spokesman for Franks office did not immediately return a phone message or email from NBC Latino requesting confirmation and more details.

Like Denham, Franks and Heck have significant Latino populations in their districts.

Denham said he’s talking to other Republicans and he expects other to sign on in the next few weeks.

To help bring along more Republicans, hundreds of right-leaning people in business, agriculture, religion and more were converging in Washington Tuesday to hold a forum on the need for immigration reform at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and to meet with Republican members of Congress.

The event is put together by the Partnership for a New American Economy that is headed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, media mogul Rupert Murdoch; Walt Disney Co. president Bob Iger and hotel executive Bill Marriott Jr. It also is organized by Bibles and Badges and Business for Immigration Reform, FWD.us and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Within the group are several Republican donors and fundraisers who come from more than 120 congressional districts around the country.

“We’d like to see (immigration reform) addressed as soon as possible because it’s an issue that affects the economy. It is important for Republicans, Democrats and Independents,” said Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Partnership for a New American Economy.

In addition, a new group has been formed to better flex the political power of Latinos. The Latino Victory Project, conceived by actress and activist Eva Longoria and Henry Munoz, Democratic National Committee Finance chair, held a meeting of about 25 to 30 people in Washington on Friday to decide ways to build the power of the Latino community, said Cristobal Alex, the group’s leader.

The group has plans to help elect Latinos and people who “reflect the values” of Latinos at all levels of government and to build Latino political donations.

But they will start their work with immigration reform. If immigration reform does not happen, they plan to use Latino donors to target 10 Republicans in the 2014 elections, when all House and some Senate seats will be up for grabs. They agreed to spend $20 million with $1 million to $2 million spent per district.

Alex said the spending would include radio, television, Spanish-language and other media that would describe whether the targeted Republican had supported immigration reform.

“We are looking at immigration reform as a primary Latino value,” Alex said.

The 10 Republicans on their list are: Reps. Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton of Colorado; Jeff Denham, Gary Miller, David Valadao and Howard “Buck” McKeon of California; Daniel Webster of Florida; Joe Heck of Nevada; Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Randy Weber of Texas.

The group’s meeting included Latino donors from Washington, D.C.; Illinois, Florida, Texas, California, New York and Massachusetts, representatives from the AFL-CIO; National Education Association; the federal workers union AFSCME; Soros Management Fund; America’s Voice; Latino Deisions polling group; Catalist, which provides voting data to non-profit groups and other labor groups, philanthropies and foundations.

A meeting on immigration was planned at the White House and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who has worked to draft a bipartisan House immigration bill would attend. The White House did not immediately return phone calls and email messages inquiring about the meeting.

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