Immigration Bills Show (Some) Signs of Life
The issue that was left for dead on Capitol Hill last year -- comprehensive immigration reform -- is showing some signs of life.
Members of both parties are still all over the map on the immigration issue, and passing a major package in an election year remains a tall order. But a flurry of meetings and legislative maneuvers, particularly on the House side, suggest that many lawmakers haven't given up hope on reaching an immigration deal during this Congress.
What would be in that deal? The formula for a consensus package looks something like this:
Border enforcement + high-tech worker visas + seasonal worker visas + legalization of undocumented workers = compromise bill
Of course, every element of that equation is potentially problematic, particularly the undocumented workers piece -- a deal-breaker for some Democrats and most Republicans, who dub it "amnesty." But the legislative wheels are turning nonetheless.
Earlier this week Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), a Democratic point man on the immigration issue, convened a meeting with several of his party's key members to gauge whether a deal is attainable. Becerra was wary of divulging any details of the meeting to Capitol Briefing, saying: "Conversations continue in the effort to try to find a bipartisan compromise that can not just pass the House but also get through the Senate."
Much of the current action focuses on two House bills that are the subjects of discharge petitions, which can force measures onto the chamber floor if they get signatures from 218 members.
The first bill, authored by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), is called the SAVE Act and is strictly concerned with tougher border enforcement and employee verification. The bill has a bipartisan list of 149 cosponsors, and the discharge petition to bring it to the floor had 185 signatures as of Tuesday, nearly all of them from Republicans.
The second key measure is one sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) that would allow visas for more seasonal workers, a key priority for the agriculture industry. That discharge petition only has 14 signatures, but the idea has a fair amount of bipartisan support.
The presidential campaign may be clouding the picture. Both Shuler and Stupak have alleged that Republicans are preventing action on their bills because Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a strong supporter of last year's effort to get a comprehensive measure, doesn't want to risk further alienating the GOP base during his White House bid. Republicans have strongly denied those charges.
Becerra said that Democratic leaders would not feel forced to act just because of the discharge petitions on the Stupak and Shuler bills.
"You typically don't make laws through discharge petitions," Becerra said. "We're in the majority so we're going to try to make laws the normal way."
It is possible, though, that the two bills could be combined, along with proposals to boost H-1B visas for high-tech workers, into something that would command bipartisan majorities in both chambers. But Democratic leaders appear unlikely to bring forth any package that does not also deal with the status of current illegal immigrants, a priority for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The CHC also wants legal immigrants to have more leeway to bring family members into the country.
"I think most people are coming to the conclusion that you don't want to deal with immigration in an ad hoc, isolated way," Becerra said.
As was the case with last year's failed effort on immigration, it looks again like any compromise bill that moves will have to have all the pieces of that puzzle, or the whole endeavor will fall apart again. Prospects for such a deal this year remain slim, but that won't stop members from trying.
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