House Democrats unveiled a comprehensive immigration reform bill on Wednesday, a move designed to pressure Republicans to take up an issue that’s been suffocated amid the government shutdown and budget skirmishes in Washington.
The Democrats’ plan includes border security measures and a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
But its chances of passage are almost zero in the GOP-controlled House. Instead, the bill could energize the party’s base and point a finger at Republicans who have refused to take up a comprehensive immigration bill, opting to address the issue with a series of smaller bills.
Nancy Pelosi, the leading Democrat in the House, helped draft the plan over the past few weeks along with one of her top deputies, Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas), and younger members such as Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Joe Garcia (D-Fla.)
"The time is now to pass comprehensive immigration and we know today that the votes exist in the House of Representatives to pass a bill,” Becerra told reporters at a press conference at the Capitol. “We stand here today to tell you we're ready to move.”
The House Democrats’ bill is a near-duplicate of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration overhaul that passed in June. The only major change is that the House legislation swaps out the Senate’s $46 billion “border surge” with a less-costly plan drafted by House Republicans. That proposal requires the government to implement a strategy to secure the U.S.-Mexico border within five years, including proof of a 90 percent effectiveness rate in stopping unauthorized crossers.
"Every piece of this legislation has bipartisan support, and that is important to us,” said Pelosi.
Despite that, the bill faces a grim future in the House. It has no Republican co-sponsors and GOP leaders like House Speaker John Boehner have already said the Senate bill is dead on arrival in the lower chamber.
Democrats have long argued that the Senate bill could pass the House if GOP leaders allowed it on the floor for a vote. But Republican House leaders have refused to do so because the proposal does not have the support of the majority of the GOP conference.
"We know that there are a number of Republicans in the House who are ready to vote for a comprehensive reform of our immigration system,” Becerra said. “We want to give them a chance to see that Democrats are serious about reaching out to them.”
The signs remain clear, however, that bipartisan immigration reform still faces a steep uphill climb in the House. Aside from Becerra, Democratic members of the “Gang of Seven,” which recently broke apart after working on a bipartisan immigration bill for months, were conspicuously absent from the press conference.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), a member of the Gang, indicated he would back the Democrats’ proposal during a floor speech on Wednesday morning.
The main message, then, from Democrats is that congressional Republicans are to blame if immigration reform doesn’t pass Congress.
“If this doesn’t happen, it really is a failure of the House Republicans to listen to the American people and take action,” Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) said.