By Alexander Bolton - 09/17/13 10:00 AM EDT
Democrats’ patience on immigration reform is wearing thin.
President Obama, congressional Democrats and activists have given Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) some room to maneuver on the thorny issue, but they are now saying that the clock is ticking.
Reform proponents are growing anxious nearly three months after the Senate cleared a bipartisan measure. While the House Judiciary Committee has passed narrow bills that are largely non-controversial within the GOP Conference, it remains to be seen if Boehner will seek a floor vote on any of them.
Senate Democratic leaders, such as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), have given House Republicans time to move on immigration reform without pressure from their political war room.
Instead, Schumer has reached out to outside groups who have strong relationships with the GOP, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to cajole the House to act.
He remains optimistic the House is on track.
“Many traditionally conservative groups including the Catholic church, Evangelicals, business leaders and the Chamber of Commerce, high-tech and agriculture growers have worked very hard over August and during recent weeks, and a significant number of Republicans who had previously been negative or neutral have come out for immigration reform,” he said in a statement.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that we can get something real done this fall.”
The soft-sell approach, however, has yielded few tangible results — and Schumer’s allies are growing restless.
Some outside groups think Senate Democrats should become more aggressive if there continues to be little movement.
Pro-reform activists did not expect the House to take up legislation this month, but the lack of discussion on its direction does not bode well. They worry the House could be trying to run out the clock.
“There needs to be a more overt discussion about what the direction will be. I think additional pressure and additional leaning from Democrats will be a good thing,” said Clarissa Martínez -De-Castro, director of civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza.
She warned it would be unacceptable for House Republicans to claim there is not enough time to address immigration reform because of the fall’s budget debate.
“There’s been plenty of debate about this and committee action,” she said. “I don’t think people will buy the excuse of time.”
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) on Thursday hinted that Boehner is slowing down immigration reform, though he stopped well short of bashing him.
“I believe if he called our immigration bill on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, it would pass,” he told reporters.
That claim has been repeatedly made by Obama, most recently over the weekend in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” program.
House Democrats have not yet launched a discharge petition on the Senate-passed measure. If such a petition were to receive 218 signatures, the bill would hit the House floor. The chances of that are slim, especially because some liberals in the House do not support the Senate bill.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) indicated to colleagues in early August that they aimed to unveil legislation in September addressing illegal immigrants who came to the nation as children, according to House sources.
The bill was expected to serve as a trial balloon for legislation addressing the legal status of the rest of the country’s illegal immigrant population.
Cantor and Goodlatte have since proceeded cautiously. Neither has pledged to sponsor the so-called “Kids Act,” which could spur a conservative backlash.
“House Judiciary staff is working with the leader to develop a kids bill,” said a GOP aide on the Judiciary panel. “However, no date has been determined for the bill’s introduction and it’s also important to note that a sponsor hasn’t been announced either.”
“What does concern me is that I’m hearing more and more, ‘Well, if we have time,’” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, which supports comprehensive reform. “That little phrase does concern me.”
Some believe that immigration reform will be too difficult to pass during 2014, an election year.
The Kids bill is crucial because it will test whether the House Republican Conference is willing to support legalizing the broader population of illegal immigrants.
Senate Democrats say they will not even begin the Senate-House conference to negotiate a final deal on immigration reform unless the House GOP shows it’s willing to approve legalization.
“We won’t go into conference negotiations when the House hasn’t shown a willingness for a path to citizenship to happen,” said a Senate Democratic aide.
Some groups on the right, including Heritage Action, have said the House should avoid passing any immigration bill this Congress. Otherwise, the groups maintain, a bad piece of legislation will emerge from a House-Senate conference.
Goodlatte said at a town-hall meeting last month that he could support granting the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants legal status. He will object to letting them gain citizenship more quickly than people who apply legally.
“Now we want to say, ‘Look we understand what you want but we think a legal status in the United States but not a special path to citizenship might be appropriate,’ ” he told constituents in Verona, Va., according to The Associated Press.
One of the most influential advocates for immigration reform, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has encouraged his colleagues to introduce immigration reform bills, but he is not likely to serve as the sponsor of the Kids bill because he has not had a role in drafting it.
“If they don’t introduce a Kids Act in two or three weeks, it’s a problem. That means they’re slowing it down,” said a pro-reform activist.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.), a leader on immigration issues in the House Democratic Caucus, has become impatient with the House GOP leadership. He said Boehner should bring legislation to the floor, even if it does not adhere to the so-called Hastert Rule by garnering a majority of the House GOP Conference.
“The Hastert Rule basically means that 118 Republicans have to agree on immigration reform before the whole House can consider it, which by definition will lead us to a partisan, and therefore probably un-passable, proposal,” said Douglas Rivlin, Gutierrez’s spokesman.
This article was updated at 12:10 p.m.