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Democrats unveil new(ish) immigration plan

The government may be shut down, but immigration reform trudges on. The latest move comes from House Democrats who, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, unveil
Immigration Reform Pelosi - Benjy Sarlin - 10/02/2013
Members of the House Democratic conference including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Reps. James Clyburn, D-S.C., right, and Joe Crowley, D-N.Y...

The government may be shut down, but immigration reform trudges on. The latest move comes from House Democrats who, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, unveiled a comprehensive immigration reform package on Wednesday that would put millions of undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship.

"We want to tell our colleagues in the House, Republicans and Democrats, that we're ready to move," Congressman Xavier Becerra said at a press conference introducing the new bill.

The proposal is a hybrid of the bill that passed the Senate in June and a House border security bill that unanimously passed in committee with bipartisan support. Republican leaders have said they won't hold a vote on the Senate's bill, opting instead for a series of smaller immigration bills that have yet to address whether to grant even limited legal status to unauthorized immigrants. Democrats were hoping a bipartisan working group in the House might produce a viable alternative Republicans could embrace, but negotiations recently collapsed after two GOP members abandoned talks.

The latest offer from the Democrats isn't likely to fare any better than the Senate's attempt, but that's not really the point. Democrats said the idea was to demonstrate their willingness to compromise: rather than releasing a bill that hewed only to their demands, they combined legislation already backed by Senate or House Republicans. No Republicans have signed onto the bill, however.

"Every piece of this legislation has had bipartisan support and that is important to us," Pelosi said. "We want bipartisan support, we want unity in our caucus."

The move by Democratic leaders is also a warning shot, however. With Republicans moving forward on immigration slowly at best, Democrats are demonstrating to voters concerned about the issue -- especially Latinos -- that their party is united behind comprehensive reform. If reform collapses, they can point to their own legislation as evidence of their commitment.

While several immigration advocacy groups praised the new bill, the Dream Action Coalition, which represents young unauthorized immigrants, expressed concern that Democrats might heighten partisan tensions.

"If Pelosi’s bill is not able to gather support, as is the very likely scenario, Democrats and Republicans must come to a sensible and practical discussion," the group said in a statement. "The path to citizenship should not be used as a political weapon to hurt the other party or kill any chance of reform, including piecemeal legislation."

It's unclear what effect the ongoing shutdown and debt limit fights might have on immigration reform's prospects. In the immediate term, it eats up the schedule in the House. Beyond that, much depends on the outcome of the current standoff and whether the party's moderates, conservatives, or House leaders emerge with a strengthened hand.

For their part, Democrats at Wednesday's immigration event told MSNBC they believed the two fights were largely disconnected.

"This issue has had a lot longer time to develop than the defund Obamacare issue that started in August when Sen. Cruz did his nationwide tour," Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas said. "The timing is very different and because of that I think the politics are very different."