Immigration reform is stuck in House, but 'gang' is resolute

Bipartisan group of House lawmakers depart the capital for recess without clinching a deal on immigration reform, missing their self-imposed deadline. But members insist they aren't giving up.

Susan Walsh/AP
Members of the House Judiciary Committee listen to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, during a hearing on immigration reform. Though House lawmakers left Washington for the Memorial Day recess without a final resolution, the Gang of Eight didn’t shatter.

Bipartisan immigration reformers in the House haven’t yet managed to clinch a deal, missing their self-imposed deadline, but neither has the group called it quits. 

The group of four Democrats and four Republicans has been working for months on a fix to America’s immigration laws, but they are stalled over one final, vexing issue: how exactly the 11 million undocumented people living in the US would be treated under the nation’s health-care system.

Though House lawmakers left Washington for the Memorial Day recess without a final resolution, the Gang of Eight didn’t shatter.

“I've been fighting for immigrants for years,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) of Illinois, a sponsor of the 2007 bipartisan immigration reform bill and a current House negotiator, in a statement on Thursday. “We've won battles, we've lost battles. I can tell you today that we are making progress. We'll get there.”

Over in the Senate, the march to immigration reform has gone largely according to plan – a bipartisan gang of senators hatched a bill that is slated for a floor vote in June. Meanwhile, the House bipartisan group thought to be vital the process of passing immigration reform appears to be stuck in mud just inches from the finish line.

The House Republican conference, long viewed as a forbidding force on immigration reform, is now signaling that it wants to pass a bill and then hammer out its differences with the Senate.

“The House is going to work its will on immigration. We're not going to be stampeded by the White House,” House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio told reporters Thursday. “The House will work its will. Don't ask me how because if I knew I'd certainly tell you, but ... I'm confident that we'll have a solid work product that we can go to conference with the Senate.”

The Republican urge to get to yes on immigration was on display Thursday. The entire House GOP leadership, in a rare joint statement, announced it would work toward passing an immigration fix.

Earlier Thursday, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia,  whose committee is primarily responsible for immigration legislation, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California unveiled legislation aimed at attracting more high-skilled workers to the US. Theirs is the fourth immigration bill offered by the House GOP to date.

Goodlatte was quick to note that the legislation, while differing from the Senate bill in several ways, is far from settled.

“Nothing in this entire immigration process should be viewed as written in stone. We’re looking for good ideas,” Representative Goodlatte says. “All the individual bills we’ve introduced are certainly subject to improvement.”

While the Senate has put forward a single comprehensive package, House Republicans have so far offered individual measures on agricultural workers, border security, and workplace enforcement of immigration rules, and a bill on interior enforcement of immigration laws is forthcoming.  

But those aren’t take-it-or-leave-it offers, to the rest of the House or to the Senate.

“This is, in a sense, a pilot for a directional change for the number of people who are welcome to stay rather than welcome to leave,” says Representative Issa.

Eventually, however, the time of looking for good ideas will be over and the time to pass bills will begin.

What will be different with immigration reform this time, Issa said, is that lawmakers are beginning to realize that, however they feel about the shape of an immigration bill, the House must pass legislation in order to get into a true final negotiation.

“We’ve had 12 years of not getting to conference [with the Senate],” Issa says. “We’ve had 12 years of not passing bills out of the House.”

That, he suggests, is long enough.

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