Is immigration reform dead?
It is a blunt question. But House Democrats and Republicans who seem to agree on the most controversial questions — like a pathway to citizenship — are not forging a bipartisan alliance. Instead they’re pointing fingers at each other. And California Democrats are leading the effort to introduce a comprehensive bill with or without GOP support.
GOP to Dems: Introduce our bill
House Republican Jeff Denham of the San Joaquin Valley said he’s ready to support a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented people. But, according to him, Democrats are getting in their own way.
“It’s the Democrats that have not only written the bill but are holding onto the bill,” Denham said. “I want to support it. I want to get others to show their support. I think that will help us to get an overall comprehensive solution.”
House Democrats have been working on a compromise bill for years now — ever since they lost the immigration reform campaign in 2007. Last week the group of seven who supported that bill shrank, when two Republicans withdrew their support.
Denham said his friends across the aisle need to push out that bill so it has a chance of garnering new support. The GOP has introduced three bills of its own focused on enforcement and high-tech workers.
“That’s part of the democratic process,” Denham said. “You release a bill, you get support from the American people and you demand a hearing, you demand floor time.”
Dems to GOP: Agree to a vote already
Democrat Zoe Lofgren of San Jose said Republicans won’t give any floor time.
She is a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, which has to generate proposals. She said the problem isn’t a lack of bills. It’s that Republican leadership is blocking a vote.
“With due respect to Denham, he’s a freshman member on committees that have nothing to do with immigration,” Lofgren said. She wants him to organize senior Republican members to get the speaker to make commitments. “Because you could have the best plan in the world. If it doesn’t go to the floor for a vote, it doesn’t matter.”
Lofgren toiled for years over the bill that Denham wants. She says it was designed to be bipartisan with equal support from both parties. If Republicans are stepping away, she’s ready to abandon it, too. “The bill was not a Democratic bill. It was a compromise bill. It’s nothing I would introduce as my first choice.”
Frustrated, Lofgren is moving not far left, but a bit farther left. Three months back, the Senate passed an immigration bill. Lofgren said House Democrats are introducing their own version of it in the coming days. Fellow Californian Nancy Pelosi is leading strategy talks.
Compared with Lofgren’s old compromise bill, the Senate version makes it easier for undocumented people to get green cards and citizenship — and, she said, they’ve got the simple majority needed to pass it.
Lofgren estimates “we would have almost all the Democrats and probably in the range of 40 to 50 Republicans.”
House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor say they won’t allow a vote until enough Republicans are on board, that there is a supermajority in favor.
But they know they’ve got to court Latino voters for whom immigration reform is important. So, the Republican leadership released this video to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
Momentum in California
Compared with other states, California has built a lot of bipartisan support. Fifteen Republicans in the state Legislature recently wrote to Congress, telling them to move already and “put this challenge behind us.”
But according to state Sen. Anthony Cannella, who signed the letter, it hasn’t made a real dent.”So far there hasn’t been much of a response, but in their defense they’re also thinking about Syria and the debt ceiling and all of that,” he said.
A local celebrity for immigration reform, Mark Zuckerberg, doesn’t sound too passionate. At a recent Silicon Valley event organized by TechCrunch, the Facebook founder hesitated when interviewer Michael Arrington asked the question: “So, zero chance of anything happening this year, next year?”
Zuckerberg shrugged: “I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say. It’s not my job to get it done. It’s my job to help provide support for the people who are going to do it.”
Days later Zuckerberg did go to Washington to meet with House leaders. But neither Facebook nor his political action committee, FWD.us, would give details.
Emily Lam organizes tech CEOs with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. She’s working with farm owners, pastors, police and Latino groups on joint lobbying visits in October.
“All of the advocates right now are gathering together to see how we can double down,” Lam said. “We realize the window of opportunity is closing. It really needs to happen this year. Otherwise it probably won’t.”
Still, Lam said immigration reform isn’t dead because even if they can’t agree on strategy, too many people want it to pass.