Democratic and Republican reformers alike are growing increasingly concerned that the House is losing focus on immigration, warning that GOP leaders need to take action soon to salvage a final deal.
“It’s very important to do it this year,” Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told reporters on Thursday. “Now is the time.”
Ros-Lehtinen was one of several Republican members who held a press conference by the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute on Thursday demanding votes soon on immigration legislation. Other participants included Reps. Henry Cuellar of Texas, Albio Sires of New Jersey, and David Valadao of California.
Driving their concern are the dwindling number of workdays left in the year and House leadership’s inability to decide how it will handle the more controversial elements of reform, most notably a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America. It seems immigration reform just can’t catch a break lately: just as the Syria debate subsided in Congress, House Republicans stumbled into a civil war over funding the government that could dominate much of the remaining schedule.
“Immigration, to me, seems like it’s starting to be pushed back a little bit,” Valadao said. “We’re here to say we do not want that, we need to get involved, we need to make sure leadership does not forget about the importance of this issue.”
Underscoring the sense of urgency among the pro-reform crowd, over 100 female immigration activists blocked an intersection outside the Capitol in an attempt to get arrested. Capitol Police obliged, arresting them as they sat arm-in-arm, and charging them with crowding and obstructing. A number of the participants have family members facing deportation proceedings. The act of civil disobedience, which brought together prominent immigrant and women’s rights groups, was intended to draw attention to stress placed on families by deportations and visa restrictions.
“We elect people because we believe they can take care of multiple priorities at once,” said Pramila Jayapal, president of We Belong Together, which coordinated Thursday’s protest. “There’s really no excuse for the House leadership to not move this forward and for the House not to act.”
One possible avenue Jayapal brought up was a bipartisan bill in the House that four Democrats and three Republicans have been working on for months that is expected to include at least a limited path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants. But its authors seem reluctant to release their proposal until the House GOP reach their own consensus on a path forward for immigration.
Ros-Lehtinen told MSNBC that the “Gang of 7” bill could serve as an eventual compromise with the Senate down the road, but that it may have to wait until the House passes a series of more modest individual bills first.
“The plan in the House is to bring up individual bills, but if we get a plan to conference we hope this will be one of the many bills discussed,” she said.
Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez, one of the working group’s members, released an op-ed in The Hill on Thursday demanding Congress quickly turn to immigration reform as well.
“No matter the obituaries written about immigration reform in the press and no matter the other pressing issues on the agenda, we need the Congress to act and for the Speaker to call the vote,” he wrote.