House Democrats released their own comprehensive immigration proposal Wednesday, hoping to put renewed pressure on the Republican majority to move forward on stalled border legislation.
But GOP aides quickly dismissed the proposal and said it was unlikely to get a vote in the chamber, reducing the bill to a symbolic attempt to keep immigration reform alive while Washington focuses on the government shutdown.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and several colleagues unveiled the proposal at a news conference on Capitol Hill, saying Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) should put immigration legislation up for a vote by the full House before the end of the year.
“The speaker said that he would like to bring something to the floor,” Pelosi said. “We would like to see characteristics like these in his bill.”
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama remained focused on the sweeping bipartisan bill approved by the Senate in June that features a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Carney declined to comment on the House Democrats’ plan, which incorporates the same citizenship component, saying he had not read the proposal.
Democrats fear that the Republican-controlled House is intent on killing momentum for immigration reform by dragging out the process. Pro-immigration advocates are planning a day of action Saturday in dozens of cities across the country, followed by an immigration rally and concert on the Mall on Tuesday. Organizers said the concert would take place on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol if the federal government remains closed next week.
Some immigration proponents have applauded recent statements by key GOP leaders that they intend to move a series of smaller-scale bills onto the House floor, perhaps in late October or early November. But the decision by Pelosi and her allies, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to pursue a new legislative strategy illustrated their growing frustration.
“We think the time is now to get this bill done,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), one of the co-sponsors.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a leading advocate for immigration reform, dismissed concerns that Republicans would ignore the proposal, saying that bipartisan support for immigration reform has taken years to develop. “When was the last time the Republicans proposed something and you saw Democrats run over and support them?” he said.
The Democrats’ plan amends a comprehensive bill approved by the Senate in June by striking a controversial border security measure that would add 700 hundred miles of fencing and 20,000 border control agents along the U.S.-Mexican border. That provision was added to the Senate bill to help win votes from conservative Republicans.
In its place, the Democratic lawmakers substituted a border proposal, passed unanimously by the House Homeland Security Committee, that would require the Department of Homeland Security to write a plan to ensure the apprehension of 90 percent of illegal border-crossers in high-traffic areas within two years and across the entire southern border within five years. The provision does not set a price or timeline, nor does it mandate a certain number of hires.
Advocates praised the Democrats for their attempts to propel the issue forward.
“The deportation crisis doesn’t take a break just because we now have a budget crisis,” said Jeff Hauser, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO. “Each day, more than 1,000 aspiring Americans are being deported. It’s constructive that pro-immigration forces in the House are taking action because it reflects the fact that the issue remains at the forefront of the conversation among communities across the country.”
But not all advocates were pleased. The Dream Action Coalition, arguing that the legislation has no chance of approval, said it hopes “Democrats are not just playing immigration politics.”
Frustration with the lack of progress showed itself starkly at a conference hosted Tuesday in Washington at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. “You’re not all going to love it — I don’t love it,” Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) told the crowd, but “we’re trying to move this debate forward.”
Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.