Tired of waiting for the GOP, House Democrats announced their own immigration bill Wednesday that grants illegal immigrants a path to citizenship but strips out the tough new border security measures passed by the Senate earlier this year.
Democrats said they took the bill that passed the Senate on a 68-32 vote and rewrote it, cutting out 20,000 new Border Patrol agents and 350 miles of fencing and additional technology. In place of those security measures, they inserted another House bill calling for the federal government to come up with a strategy to secure the border. The text wasn't available by Wednesday evening.
Their goal, Democrats said, is to jump-start the immigration debate in the House.
"We're not introducing the perfect bill, but we're introducing a comprehensive reform bill that provides that space for compromise," said Rep. Joe Garcia, Florida Democrat.
Unlike the Senate bill, which was written by four Republicans and four Democrats and passed only after that Gang of Eight accepted a GOP amendment adding new fencing and 20,000 Border Patrol agents, the House bill is sponsored only by Democrats.
But the lawmakers said they took pains to include a bipartisan bill that cleared the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this year that demands the Homeland Security Department come up with a strategy for securing the border.
The Democrats also said they already were making sacrifices by accepting most of the Senate bill, which grants a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants but curtails some current legal immigration categories, including limiting chain migration for siblings and ending the diversity visa lottery.
Immigrant-rights advocates said the bill will put pressure on the GOP.
"Now, it's put up or shut up time for Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the House GOP leadership. How they respond to the introduction of this bill will speak volumes," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice.
Rather than a broad bill compiling illegal immigration, legal immigration and new security measures, House Republicans have written a number of smaller bills to deal with the issue in pieces — though they have yet to introduce bills to legalize illegal immigrants.
Rep. Lamar Smith, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the Democrats' bill would make Americans face tougher competition for jobs.
"It's disappointing that Democrats continue to insist on amnesty for illegal immigrants rather than supporting policies that help the American people," the Texas Republican said.
Democrats argued that Mr. Smith's view doesn't represent a large part of the GOP. They predicted that if GOP leaders were to bring the Democrats' legislation to the House floor several dozen Republicans would vote for it.
Immigration has proved to be trickier in the House than the Senate.
A group of eight House lawmakers had been working on a broad immigration bill and said it had reached the framework for a deal but couldn't agree on the details. The group dissolved in September.
And with the spending fight now gripping Washington, plus a debt fight looming later in October, some Republicans have said there is no chance the House will debate a bill this year.
More recently, however, news reports indicated that Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and a longtime proponent of legalizing illegal immigrants, has been working to try to put the issue back on the agenda.
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