House Democrats: Path to Citizenship or Bust

Democrats say they won't cave on key demand for immigration reform.

July 9, 2013— -- House Democrats made it clear on Tuesday that they won't support any major immigration overhaul that does not include a pathway to citizenship.

Party members in the lower chamber this morning huddled with the four Democrats on the so-called "Gang of Eight" that helped write the Senate's bill. After the meeting, House Democrats said that the path to citizenship is the one thing they won't sacrifice for votes on an immigration package.

"You must include a pathway to citizenship," Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, told reporters after the meeting. "Democrats will make that very clear to Republicans."

That demand will set up a contentious and difficult debate over immigration in the House. Republicans, who hold the majority, have shown little to no appetite to pass language that would offer the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. a chance to earn citizenship.

Despite that, Becerra said that the Democratic senators in attendance made it clear that it's possible to convince Republicans to get on board with a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship, citing the bipartisan support the Senate bill received.

"They made the point emphatically," Becerra said, "[that] we cannot become a country that would [create] second class Americans."

Even though they are in the minority, Democrats believe they have leverage to place a path to citizenship into a House immigration bill. Becerra emphasized that Democrats wouldn't settle for the House passing a bill without a path to citizenship, then hoping it gets added during negotiations with the Senate. They want the House to pass a bill now that includes it.

"I don't see how Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans pass real immigration reform that fixes the problem without Democratic votes," he said. "They're going to have to reach across the aisle."

One major element of immigration reform Democrats said they could do without is the Senate bill's so-called "border surge," which would double the size of the Border Patrol and require the completion of 700 miles of fencing between the U.S. and Mexico.

That language was critical in securing enough Republican votes to pass a bill out of the Senate. Democrats acknowledged the need to include border security language to pass a bill out of the House as well. But Democratic leaders said that lawmakers from border states spoke out during the meeting against the "surge," arguing it would harm the way of life for many in their districts.

"I don't think you need to militarize the border in order to secure it," said Becerra. "The biggest failure would be to do nothing … If we don't like what the Senate did, let's prove we can do it better."