By Mike Lillis - 12/12/13 06:29 PM EST
House Democrats on Thursday intensified the pressure on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to take up comprehensive immigration reform.
"History will not be kind to us as a people and as a nation unless we do what is right, what is fair and what is just," Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, said in a fiery speech from the steps of the Capitol. "We cannot wait. We cannot be patient. ... Please, Mr. Speaker, bring the bill to the floor."
With the House on its way out of town for a long holiday recess, there's no chance Congress will tackle the issue before 2014. But Democrats are hoping to keep immigration reform in the headlines — and generate public pressure — in hopes that GOP leaders will take up legislation early next year.
"For us, it is inevitable that we will pass comprehensive immigration reform. For some, it is inconceivable, and they will stand in the way," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "We just have to shorten the time between the inevitable to us and the inconceivable to them."
While Boehner has said all year that he supports immigration reform, he hasn't prioritized it in the face of strong opposition from his right flank. The Speaker has refused to consider a comprehensive reform bill passed by the Senate with bipartisan support in June, and a series of Republican bills passed by the House Judiciary Committee over the summer never found their way to the floor.
The Democrats are pushing legislation, unveiled in October, that would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants — a provision demanded by Democrats — and require the Obama administration to come up with a more effective border security plan, as favored by Republicans.
Democratic leaders said Thursday that the bill has more than 190 co-sponsors, with dozens of additional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expected to support it if it comes up for a vote.
"We have more than 218 members of the House who have publicly declared they are for comprehensive immigration reform," said Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "We will get this done."
The Democrats' push came on the same day that hundreds of immigration reform activists swarmed Capitol Hill, where organizers claimed they shut down more than 100 congressional offices.
The Democrats credited the advocates with giving the issue legs.
"We aren't going away," Pelosi said. "This is going to happen, it's just a matter of time."