Politics, government and public life for Southern California

House Democrats unveil their own immigration bill

Kitty Felde/KPCC

Gang of Eight member Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) answers reporters' questions after unveiling the Democrats' immigration bill.

As Congress struggles to find compromise on a budget deal, House Democrats say it’s the right time to introduce what they call a “bipartisan” immigration bill. It isn’t the long-awaited comprehensive package that was being crafted by a bipartisan group of members – and it’s not likely to go anywhere anytime soon.

At a press event Wednesday morning, House Democrats insisted their package is bipartisan, since it combines the comprehensive immigration bill passed by three Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee with a GOP bill passed by the House Judiciary Committee. It does not include the nearly $40 billion border security amendment approved by the full Senate, instead substituting a House bill that requires a border security “strategy.”

Congresswoman Judy Chu of El Monte co-sponsored the measure, which she admits isn't perfect. For example, the Senate version phases out the sibling visa category, a major priority for Asian American community. Chu says it does eliminate the backlog and Congress can't left "the perfect be the enemy of the good."

So why this cobbled together package rather than the bill a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” has been working on for months? L.A. Democrat Xavier Becerra, a member of that working group, said that measure remains under wraps “out of respect” to his fellow members. "We always had agreed that we could not go public with a bill until all of us said it’s time," he said.

That “Gang of Eight” — originally four members from each party — has dwindled on the GOP side to just one participant, Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida. Diaz-Balart could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but fellow "gang of eight" member, Democrat Luis Gutierrez  of Illinois, insisted "there's a lot of positive movement" on the GOP side. 

Gutierrez appeared on an immigration reform panel this summer with Republican Congressman David Valadao, on the California representative's home turf in the Central Valley. Valadao's district is nearly three-quarters Latino. As a "strong advocate for immigration reform," Valadao — speaking Wednesday outside the House chamber — said he's interested in looking at the Democratic bill. But he wants to look at the details. "It's such a complicated issue," he said, "I'm not going to draw one specific line on one issue." 

Gutierrez isn't discouraged that Valadao hasn't immediately embraced the Democrats' package: "When was the last time you saw the Republicans propose something and Democrats fall all over themselves to go join?"

Particularly now, in what Gutierrez described as a "dark, ugly tunnel of division."

The new Democratic proposal is likely dead on arrival.  House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly said he will not introduce the Senate immigration bill. But Gutierrez insisted if members keep talking, "all of these things will drive us to a solution."

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