By Russell Berman - 04/17/13 01:48 PM EDT
A secretive bipartisan House immigration coalition has broken its official silence to applaud the release of comprehensive Senate legislation, with eight members saying in a joint statement they hope to reach their own agreement “soon.”
"Americans want to see the nation's broken immigration system fixed, and they know it will take bipartisanship to solve this problem in a sensible and rational way. This week, a bipartisan group of Senators stepped forward to introduce their proposal, and we applaud their effort,” the group said.
Members of the Senate’s Gang of Eight on Wednesday morning formally introduced an 844-page bill that overhauls the immigration system through enhancements to border security, the creation of a guest-worker program and providing a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The House group has been working on its own legislation off and on for four years, but its existence only became public knowledge in the last few months. With a mix of longtime immigration-reform advocates and conservative hard-liners, the members have tried to keep their work under wraps to such an extent that they previously declined to acknowledge participating in the bipartisan effort.
The statement on Wednesday marked the first official comment the House group has made. Signing on were: Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and John Yarmuth (Ky.), and Republicans John Carter (Texas), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Sam Johnson (Texas) and Raul Labrador (Idaho).
The statement was careful not to explicitly endorse the Senate measure.
Despite the momentum for immigration reform since the November election, the path to passage for comprehensive legislation remains far more complicated in a House dominated by conservatives who have previously opposed such measures.
Republican leaders have been meeting with members in small groups to educate them about the complex immigration system, and they have not decided whether to move legislation in one sweeping bill or in pieces.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has pledged to recommit to “regular order,” which would likely mean that any legislation would first have to go through the Judiciary Committee.
Labrador said Tuesday he favors moving immigration reform in several pieces simultaneously, which some lawmakers believe will make it easier to pass. Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has also said this approach is an option.
The House bill crafted by the bipartisan group is expected to significantly overlap with the Senate legislation but contain key differences, including in the guest-worker program. Labrador said Tuesday that he was concerned with an agreement between business and labor groups that formed the basis for the Senate’s guest-worker program, because it placed too small a cap on the initial number of workers.