Keeping Up the Pressure: House Democrats Introduce Immigration Reform Bill

Hope springs eternal, it would seem, even in the waning days of a particularly fraught session of Congress: in early October, House Democrats introduced a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill, in the teeth of the prevailing partisan gridlock over fiscal and budgetary issues. As the Washington Post reports, the bill is designed to keep pressure on House Republicans to return to the immigration debate, as soon as the latest round of fiscal and budgetary issues are resolved. [See House Democrats Introduce Separate Immigration Bill, by David Nakamura, Washington Post, 02.Oct.2013.]

The new proposal, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” – also known as H.R. 15 – was introduced by Florida Congressman Joe Frank. At of this writing, the bill has 166 co-sponsors, including House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, and a host of other prominent Democrats. [See Bill Summary and Status, 113th Congress (2013-2014) H.R. 15, Thomas (Library of Congress).] Though similar to the Senate-passed CIR bill, House Democrats have swapped out a key provision: the Senate’s $40 billion border security package, that would add 20,000 Border Patrol agents and 700 miles of new fencing along the Mexican border.

In a canny – though probably still fruitless – bid to attract GOP support, House Dems have replaced it with border security language that was crafted by the House Homeland Security Committee, and passed unanimously. According to the Washington Post, the new plan:

“Instructs the Department of Homeland Security to write a plan that could ensure the apprehension of 90 percent of illegal border-crossers in high-traffic areas within two years and across the entire southern border within five years. But it does not set out an exact price or timeline or mandate a certain number of hires.”

Given Speaker Boehner’s longstanding promise to pursue immigration reform in a slow, deliberate, and piecemeal manner – if at all – one wonders why House Democrats would even make the attempt. As the Huffington Post argues:

“The speaker has said repeatedly that no bill will receive a vote if a majority of GOP members oppose it, so it doesn’t matter much. Asked if there was any chance Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) would put the bill on the calendar, Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper replied simply, ‘No.'” [See House Democrats Introduce Immigration Bill With Little Chance Of A Vote, by Elise Foley, Huffington Post, 02.Oct.2013.]

Assuming the bill has scant prospect of passage under current circumstances, House Dems must have other reasons for introducing yet another CIR proposal at this late date. As many commentators suggest, the main purpose of the bill is to keep pressure on House Republicans, and to reassure immigration reform advocates – who skew overwhelmingly toward the Democrats – that their party has not given up the fight. [See, e.g., House Democrats File Immigration Bill, Urge GOP to Act, by Alan Gomez, USA Today, 02.Oct.2013.] In other words: there’s nothing to lose in trying, and if it eventually leads to some form of CIR passing the House, that’s icing on the cake.

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