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Immigration reform: House's piecemeal approach could work

Immigration activists rallied last month on the Washington Mall.
Immigration activists rallied last month on the Washington Mall.

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President Obama told the Wall Street Journal Business Forum this week he’d support the House Republicans' piecemeal approach to immigration, saying “if they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done,” he doesn’t care what reform looks like.

Democrats and immigration activists are echoing the President’s message.

House Speaker John Boehner has consistently insisted that a step-by-step approach is the only way immigration will advance in the House. 

House Democrats have been critical of the GOP approach, instead pushing for a version of the more comprehensive Senate bill. Florida Congressman Joe Garcia, the author of HR-15, the House version of the Senate immigration bill, said last month the notion that Republicans — “who cannot pass anything” — are going to pass a piecemeal immigration bill “is a fallacy.”

But now, the number three House Democrat, L.A. Congressman Xavier Becerra, is embracing the piecemeal approach if it gets the job done. If it requires Republicans to tackle reform one step at a time, he says — “first the arms, then the legs, then the torso, then the head" — that's okay, "so long as at the end of the day, we’re doing this the right way, that’s what you need to do.”

Both Becerra and President Obama insist one of those pieces must be a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people without documents already in this country.

Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of the immigration activist group America’s Voice, says “the ball is in House Republicans’ court,” and challenges the GOP to “step forward with a plan” or get blamed for blocking reform.

Activists are keeping up pressure on House leaders. Several dozen members of the group United We Dream marched Wednesday from Boehner’s Washington home to his office on Capitol Hill. Julieta Garibay, the group's legislative affairs associate, says the push is for passage of HR-15, but “regardless of how immigration reform gets dealt with, we just want justice for our families.”

So far, the House GOP has not introduced legislation that addresses the citizenship issue. 

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin also addressed the Wall Street Journal business group, saying he believed some fellow GOP members support a path to citizenship that is long and tough. But he echoed House leadership, saying there's "literally not enough time" to pass immigration reform by the end of the year. "If we are trying to cram and rush just because it's the calendar year, we don't think that's responsible."