- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

House Democrats announced an official petition drive Wednesday to try to pressure Republicans and force a final congressional vote on immigration — but they are facing criticism from immigrant rights activists who say the move is political theater and that the real problem is President Obama’s deportation record.

The petition has little chance of succeeding. It would need to get 217 signatures to succeed, and it’s doubtful backers could wrangle more than 200.

But it does serve as a rallying point for Democrats, who are already using it to put pressure on Republicans from districts with high percentages of Hispanic voters.

“Republicans in the House have refused to allow meaningful immigration-reform legislation to even come up for a vote,” Mr. Obama said in a statement praising the petition drive. “Immigration reform is the right thing to do for our economy, our security, and our future. A vast majority of the American people agree. The only thing standing in the way is the unwillingness of Republicans in Congress to catch up with the rest of the country.”

After signaling an intent to move on immigration earlier this year, House Republican leaders have since cooled to the idea, saying they don’t trust Mr. Obama to enforce the laws.

Faced with that reality, immigrant rights groups have turned their focus back to Mr. Obama, saying he should claim unilateral powers to stop deportations.

SEE ALSO: WILLIAMS: A conversation on comprehensive immigration reform

“Latinos are at a tipping point with President Obama on immigration,” said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org.

Mr. Obama has promised to try to figure out ways to curtail more deportations — though he’s already cut the deportation rate by more than 25 percent from its peak in 2012, and some legal analysts said that risks running afoul of Congress’ directives on enforcing the law.

That leaves all sides in a stalemate.

Democrats hope the petition drive will put pressure back on the GOP.

“How Republican leadership handles the immigration issue for the next several months will go a long way toward determining national politics for the next several decades,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, who has been pushing for action for years. “Republicans can choose to be a nationally competitive party that supports legal immigration or a regional minority party that can only muster support for deportation.”

The petition drive is a tactic available to lawmakers when the party that controls the chamber doesn’t want to debate an issue. Under House rules, if a majority of lawmakers sign the petition, it can force a bill to the floor.

In this case, that bill is Democratic leaders’ immigration proposal, similar to the one that passed the Senate last year on a bipartisan vote that would grant quick legal status and a long-term path to citizenship to most illegal immigrants.

But House Democrats deleted the stiff border-security provisions, which were needed to win over GOP votes in the Senate.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, who has fought for a crackdown on illegal immigration, said the focus should still be on border security.

“The Democrats are not serious about enacting immigration legislation. If they were, they would agree to secure the border first rather than pass legislation that encourages more illegal immigration,” he said.

The last successful discharge petition was more than a decade ago, when Democrats, joined by a large number of Republicans, forced a campaign-finance bill to the chamber floor.

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