Immigration: After Weeks In Limbo, House Democrats Introduce Bill To Resurrect Reform

Saying that they are ready to move on legislation that would overhaul the nation’s immigration system, House Democrats unveiled a bill Wednesday that includes a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who meet a strict set of criteria, and that tightens border security.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and more than a dozen Democrats told reporters that they were ready to move on the legislation.

Prospects are highly uncertain, however, for anything as contentious as immigration amid the budget standoff that has paralyzed Congress.

Democrats said they were hopeful that despite the partisan dysfunction, Republicans and Democrats could come together on immigration. The Senate passed a comprehensive bill in June, but the House has not acted on a handful of smaller bills from the Judiciary committee.

“I still think we have a chance to work together and get something done,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, before the unveiling of the bill.

The bill, the product of top Democrats including Pelosi of California, Joaquin Castro of Texas, Joe Garcia of Florida and Jared Polis of Colorado, includes parts of a bipartisan measure that the Senate passed in June, according to Politico. Some Republicans also had provided input to the bill, which was said to have been in the works – to various degrees – for years.

The House bill omits a controversial provision in the Senate measure that called for adding 700 miles of fencing and 20,000 agents on the U.S.-Mexico border, according to The Washington Post.

It adds, however, a provision approved by the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this year that requires the Department of Homeland Security to establish a strategy for arresting 90 percent of people who cross the southern border illegally, the Post said.

Some advocates of more lenient immigration policies lamented the omission of some factors for which they have been pushing in any overhaul of the system. Those excluded factors include the diversity visa program and the sibling category from family reunification petitions.

But many immediately praised the bill, hoping it would build momentum for the bill to advance in the House.

“The House bill addresses all aspects of the immigration system,” said a statement by America’s Voice, a Washington D.C.-based group that favors reform that would include a path to legal status.  “It is not a perfect bill.  But we get it: Democrats decided to include only language that was approved on a bipartisan basis in both the Senate and House as a way to encourage bipartisanship in the House.”

House Democrats are said to have timed the release of the bill to the Oct. 5 National Day of Action, when immigrant rights, faith and labor groups plan to hold more than 100 rallies, vigils and other actions to press Congress to work on immigration legislation.

Another rally is planned for Oct. 8 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. that organizers expect to draw “tens of thousands.”

Efforts to advance immigration reform legislation in the House stalled in the summer, as some Republicans, who control the chamber, vowed not to rubber-stamp the Senate version — they have expressed objections over allowing a pathway to legal status for many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. The other key part of the bill calls for tightening enforcement.

Several Republican leaders in the House said they preferred to deal with immigration through separate bills instead of one overarching one.

Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa who is known for having among the most hard line views on immigration in Congress, has been organizing an “immigration whip team,” according to The National Journal, to block any measure that would provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

“Each day that has passed without floor action has been good for the rule of law and good for the rule of sovereignty,” King said, according to the Journal.

Many observers say the Democrat immigration bill aims to make a statement, and is not expected to advance much amid the GOP resistance and the few legislative days left this year.

Many immigration reform advocates, however, plan to keep up the pressure for the passage of a bill this year.

"Ultimately, this is a bill that received strong bipartisan support in the Senate, and we urge Speaker Boehner to have the courage to bring an improved version of this bill to the floor for a vote," said Vivien Labaton, Co-Chair of We Belong Together: Women for Common Sense Immigration Reform.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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