The dozen Dem holdouts on immigration

A dozen House Democrats have not co-sponsored the immigration reform bill their leaders are pushing for.

All but 12 Democrats in the lower chamber have co-sponsored H.R. 15, a bill similar to the bipartisan immigration measure that passed the Senate last year.

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The House bill’s elimination of the diversity visa program, which awards roughly 50,000 visas annually to immigrants from countries underrepresented in the U.S., has drawn criticism from members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a CBC member, won’t sign onto the bill because of these provisions, spokeswoman Stephanie Baez told The Hill.

Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), another CBC member who is not a co-sponsor, said he supports the legislation, but he doesn’t think it’s comprehensive enough, especially in regards to diversity visas.

Many of the diversity visa recipients emigrate from African or Caribbean countries.

“We want to be sure that this nation is not one that doesn’t continue to welcome people of African descent and that it is comparable to what we do for others coming from around the world,” Rep. Yvette Clarke, a CBC member, said to Public Radio International last year.

Clarke’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Clarke is one of the 12 holdouts.

The Senate bill and its House companion differ slightly, most notably in the area of border security. In order to get Republicans on board, the Senate bill had a last minute addition called the Corker-Hoeven amendment. This “border surge” amendment calls for $38 billion in additional spending allocated toward border security, as well as mandatory quotas for infrastructure, personnel and security technology. Critics viewed this as a “militarization” of the border area.

Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), who has not backed H.R. 15, was so opposed to this “border surge” component of the Senate bill that he resigned from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last year due to its embrace of the legislation.

Vela’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The House bill scrapped this border surge provision and replaced it with the separate and less stringent Border Security Results Act, introduced by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas). His legislation focuses more on statistical analysis of border activity and accountability.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a Blue Dog, prefers the Senate approach.

“The House should be able to vote on the Senate bill, which passed overwhelmingly last year with the support of 14 Republican senators, including both senators from Tennessee,” he said. “This bill is the best chance for sensible reform of our immigration laws."

Rep. John Barrow (Ga.), another conservative Democrat, is an opponent of the Senate bill’s “amnesty” provisions that create a path to citizenship for eligible residents in the U.S. illegally. Republicans are targeting Barrow’s seat this cycle. Barrow’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) objects to “granting amnesty or any type of legal status which pardons people in violation of our laws,” he said in a statement published on his website.

McIntyre declined to comment to The Hill.

Democratic Reps. Dan Lipinski (Ill.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.) and Cedric Richmond (La.) have also not signed on to the House immigration legislation.

Peterson is still studying the bill. Richmond says he does support it.

Democrats later this year are likely to launch a discharge petition on immigration reform. If the petition attracts 218 signatures, it would trigger a floor vote. But Republicans rarely sign onto Democratic discharge petitions, and at least some of the 12 Democratic holdouts won’t back it.

David King, professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, expressed pessimism for the future of the comprehensive immigration bill in the House.

“At this point, immigration reform is simply cheap talk,” King said. “The Republicans aren’t going to let it get to the floor. The clamoring for a discharge petition is simply a political ploy that has no chance of surviving.”

— Sheila Timmons contributed.

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