By Julia Preston on 12/12/13
WASHINGTON — As the Republican-controlled House of Representatives wrapped up its work for the year on Thursday with no progress on immigration, leaders from both parties said they would return to the issue early in the new year.
Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said at a hearing that immigration would be a “top priority” in 2014. He said the House would advance a series of bills to strengthen enforcement, improve the legal immigration process and find “the appropriate legal status for those who are not here lawfully today.”
Despite the biting chill, the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, surrounded herself on the steps of the Capitol with dozens of Democratic lawmakers and with advocates who had been fasting in a tent on the National Mall to push the House to vote on an immigration bill.
“For us, it is inevitable that we will pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Ms. Pelosi said. “For some, it is inconceivable, and they will stand in the way. But we know it will happen, and we just have to shorten the time.”
Ms. Pelosi’s political theater was intended to identify Democrats with the fasters, whose protest had little effect on House Republican leaders but gained a wide following among Latino, immigrant and religious groups across the country.
An immigration overhaul has seemed close to death in the House more than once in recent months. But even though Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio has not found a strategy to corral a majority of his caucus behind legislation, a unified Democratic minority and an array of persistent supporters of a comprehensive bill have made it difficult for Republican leaders to sweep the issue aside.
On Thursday, more than 1,000 advocates fanned out through the House at midday, occupying the offices of more than 170 Republican and four Democratic lawmakers for about an hour.
At the offices of Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking House Republican, half a dozen protesters sat on the carpet, chanting and praying. The Rev. Carmelo Santos, a Lutheran pastor from Springfield, Va., prayed in English and Spanish for Mr. Cantor to “find his way to a good compromise” to provide a path to citizenship for more than 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.
“Even if it’s politically costly, we know they can do it,” Mr. Santos said.
House Republican leaders are steering a different course from the Senate, which passed a broad bill in June that included a path to citizenship for immigrants here illegally. Republicans have portrayed that bill as an unwieldy federal behemoth, and their criticism gained new traction with the troubled rollout of President Obama’s health care legislation.
The House Judiciary Committee has approved several immigration bills, but none that would offer legal status to those 11 million people. Without such a proposal, Mr. Boehner cannot win Democratic support for other immigration bills.
But further delay is becoming awkward for the speaker. A Democratic bill in the House that mirrors the Senate’s has more than 190 sponsors, including three Republicans. Representative Xavier Becerra of California, the chairman of the Democratic caucus, said 26 Republicans had expressed support for that bill’s approach, which he said was enough to pass the measure if Mr. Boehner allowed a vote.
Democrats and immigration advocates are planning to press Mr. Boehner to do so.
“We want Speaker Boehner and the House leadership to know, as you go home and spend time with your families, that you are responsible for our families that are going to be separated by deportations this holiday season,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, an immigrant organization.
Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, said simply, “Please, Mr. Speaker, bring the bill to the floor.”
This year, advocacy groups have held marches, prayer vigils, sit-ins in Washington and town hall meetings in Republican districts. They have organized mock citizenship ceremonies, delivered turkeys to House lawmakers and attracted a tech-savvy group with a competition billed as a “hack-athon.”
Five people fasted for 22 days in the tent on the Mall, consuming only water, and dozens of others held shorter fasts. The fasters ended their protest on Thursday, taking down the tent.
As House members prepared to leave town, the activists did not seem discouraged by the lack of results from their efforts, which they said had expanded the reach of their movement. Although some Republicans expressed irritation at the tactics, advocates said they could expect more of the same next year.
Many groups said they would also pivot to an electoral strategy in preparation for the midterm elections next November, in which they hope to replicate at least some of the big increase in Latino and immigrant voter turnout seen in 2012.
Most of the major national Latino organizations presented a unified plan on Tuesday with a score card showing the immigration voting record of every House member, which they plan to distribute to Latino voters across the country.
Leaders of the organizations said they were beginning a joint campaign to register Latino voters. They hope to spread a national message while also focusing on several dozen Republican districts where they believe they have enough voters to move races.
“If Republicans ever want to have a president again,” said Max Sevillia, policy director at the Naleo Educational Fund, “they need to pay attention to the Latinos.”
Share this page