Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus rejected a proposal by several Republicans that would have granted a pathway to permanent residency to some undocumented youth who serve in the military or seek higher education in the United States.
"The problem with the ACHIEVE Act is it does not achieve the dream," Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) said during a news conference on Wednesday morning.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) said the proposal was "too little, too late."
Menendez and other members of the Hispanic Caucus also rejected the STEM Jobs Act, a bill that would boost the number of green cards available to foreign graduates with advanced science, technology, engineering and math degrees from U.S. universities by eliminating the diversity visa program, which grants green cards to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States through a random selection process.
"It didn't follow the bipartisan effort that it could have," Menendez said.
Gutierrez added that the caucus has an "affirmative position" on the STEM Jobs Act, but that the GOP-backed bill, which the House is expected to consider Friday, does not do enough for families. The bill allows spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents to come to the country while they wait for their green cards, but it does not authorize them to work, Gutierrez said.
Members of the caucus outlined nine principles for immigration reform at the conference.
"We've asked for one simple thing – fairness," Gutierrez said, adding that the Republican Party "demonized immigrants."
The principles are very similar to those outlined by Menendez at a conference earlier this month. They include requiring undocumented immigrants seeking permanent residency and eventual citizenship to register with the federal government, submit to a background check, learn English and pay taxes.
The principles also include protecting "the sanctity and unity of the family, including the families of bi-national, same-sex couples, by reducing the family backlogs and keeping spouses, parents, and children together," and developing a "workable employment verification system" that prevents unlawful employment but protects workers' right to privacy.
A "diverse, 21st century America spoke out" on Election Day, Menendez said, adding that he believes bipartisan immigration reform is possible. He added that the caucus "could have started off with a bill" instead of principles, but that it would impede negotiations on the issue. "That begins an adversarial process," he said. "We are in good faith reaching out."
"We're not going to negotiate with ourselves," Gutierrez added, when asked if the bill must include a path to legalization. "We want to go out and build consensus."
Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas), the incoming chair of the caucus, said he envisions working closely with the Black and Asian-American caucuses to build "synergy" on the immigration issue, and added he hopes to invite President Obama to meet with the three groups as a tri-caucus.
"All of the sudden we're the belle of the ball," Gutierrez said, referencing the power of Latino voters in the recent election. "Well, we're here to say it's time to start the dance."