Politics, government and public life for Southern California

The great immigration reform battle of 2013

Immigration Rally

Kitty Felde/KPCC

Immigration activists kept the pressure on Congress throughout 2013 to enact comprehensive reform

In his 2013 State of the Union address last January, President Obama mentioned bi-partisan groups in Congress working behind the scenes to craft an immigration bill. He challenged the lawmakers to send him a comprehensive reform immigration bill in the next few months, saying "I will sign it right away and America will be better for it. Let’s get it done."

It was soon after the President's speech that a bi-partisan group of Senators introduced an 844-page immigration bill. It included border security, visas for high tech and agricultural workers, and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in this country. The measure passed 68-32.

Immigration activists watching the vote began celebrating almost immediately, chanting "Yes we can!" from the Senate gallery until they were hushed. 

The celebration was short lived.

In the GOP-led House, a bi-partisan octet of lawmakers had worked for months on its own comprehensive immigration bill. But as summer approached, the so-called Gang of Eight began losing Republican members. San Jose Democrat Zoe Lofgren, one of the five remaining lawmakers in the group, summed it up, saying, "Republicans feared their right wing and paused."

House Speaker John Boehner called the Senate bill DOA and promised not to bring any immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have support from a majority of Republicans.The only immigration measure to get a House vote was an amendment by Steve King of Iowa that would deport hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. 

This fall, House Democrats introduced their own version of the Senate bill. It attracted three GOP co-sponsors, including two California Congressmen with large Latino populations in their Central Valley districts. One of them is David Valadao, who insists there's "a lot of will to do something and a lot of members that want to be part of it."

So the focus shifts to 2014. 

Immigration activists, who fasted and marched to keep the pressure on, want the White House to stop deportations and Boehner to introduce a comprehensive bill.

There is some indication for action on the 2014 agenda: This month, Boehner hired the woman who worked on immigration policy for Arizona Senator John McCain. 

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