By Mike Lillis - 04/24/13 04:19 PM EDT
Republican pushback over comprehensive immigration reform is preventing House negotiators from finalizing a deal, a Democrat involved in those talks said Wednesday.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said that the bipartisan group is "very close" to producing a bill but that entrenched opposition from conservatives in the broader Republican conference has "tied [the GOP] up in knots" and stalled the process.
Becerra, one of the eight lawmakers trying to iron out an agreement that has been years in the works, was quick to note that the Republicans involved directly in the talks — Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Raúl Labrador (Idaho), Sam Johnson (Texas) and John Carter (Texas) — were not themselves the barrier to a deal.
"I don't think the delay ... has anything to do with the eight members in their efforts to negotiate on the policy. Among the eight of us, there's nothing political," he said. "So while we thought we were perhaps closer than we are today, I think we can quickly get to that point where we conclude [a deal]. On the Republican side I think it's perhaps a little more difficult to get that consensus from their membership.
"At the end of the day, the eight of us are trying to act on behalf of 435 members," Becerra added.
After many years of failure, supporters of comprehensive immigration reform think this is their year, not least because November's elections — when Latino voters overwhelmingly supported Democrats — have inspired GOP leaders to call for action, if only to prevent the issue from becoming a perennial liability at the polls.
The Senate's own "Gang of Eight" released its version of a comprehensive reform bill last week. The proposal attempts to walk the fine line between the enhanced border security being demanded by conservatives and a way to achieve legal citizenship stipulated by liberals.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has held six hearings on the issue this year – three since the reform package was released – and a markup is expected in May.
Still, there's plenty of opposition to the Senate agreement, largely from conservative circles. And some powerful Republicans on the Senate Judiciary panel — notably ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) — are calling for Congress to slow down in its approach to immigration reform in the wake of last week's deadly Boston Marathon bombing.
"The protestations of the sponsors of this bill, that we’re going to be a lot safer if the new bill is passed, I think [are] incorrect," Sessions said Friday.
But supporters of the reform push, including the bipartisan authors of the Senate bill, say the tragedy should compel lawmakers to act more quickly to plug the holes in an immigration system that all sides agree is broken.
"What happened in Boston ... should urge us to act quicker, not slower, when it comes to getting the 11 million [illegal immigrants] identified," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the Gang of Eight, told CNN Sunday.
Becerra is squarely in Graham's camp, saying the Boston attacks will do nothing to retard the House talks.
"We continue to try to deal with the unresolved details in our legislative proposal, [and] I see no interruption in that," he said Wednesday. "So while there may be others who are trying to raise these obstacles to getting our work done on an immigration fix, I don't think the eight members who are working [on] this will be deterred."
The California liberal noted that, a year ago Republicans were vowing to veto the DREAM Act and calling for the "self-deportation" of those living in the country illegally. With that in mind, he said, despite the barriers, he's optimistic a deal is attainable and Congress will finally pass comprehensive immigration reform this year.
"We were very close," he said of a House deal. "I think the lapse — I would consider it only temporary."