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House Democrats press for immigration reform despite government shutdown

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Congress,Immigration,House of Representatives,PennAve,Sean Lengell,Border Security

House Democrats are pressing for an immigration reform package that would give millions of undocumented workers a chance at citizenship, despite the government shutdown and looming debt-limit crisis.

The measure is an attempt to salvage the work of the "Gang of Eight" — a group of four Democrats and four Republicans who hammered out a comprehensive immigration reform bill that easily passed the Senate in June but which the GOP-led House has refused to consider.

The timing of the House bill — spearheaded by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — isn't ideal, as lawmakers and the nation are preoccupied with the shutdown that began Tuesday. But Democratic leaders and the bill's sponsors say it's vital that they move now on the measure so as to not lose momentum for immigration reform.

"We have so many [House Democratic] members that were ready to go two months ago but have been waiting, and they're saying when?" said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California, a Gang of Eight member.

Many House Democrats initially pushed to bring up the Senate bill, which would allow 11 million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully to earn legal status, though it would take up to 13 years to achieve it.

But with Republican leaders opposing the bill, Democrats eventually decided to meld the Senate's citizenship provision with a Republican border security measure that cleared the GOP-led House Homeland Security Committee earlier this year.

"This is not the bill that many of our Democrats would've said, 'let's start with this,' " Becerra said. "But we're not interested in starting at the starting line."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said House Democrats "overwhelmingly" support the measure, which also has the backing of unions and business groups.

"This is going to grow the economy, create jobs — not take jobs away," he said.

And by including the House provision — which calls for the Homeland Security Department to set definitive border security benchmarks to gain "operational control" of its borders within two years — Democrats hope to win Republican support.

While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelsoi, D-Calif., called the bill "100 percent bipartisan," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has pushed for a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, starting with tighter border security. And with conservatives in his conference staunchly opposed to giving illegal residents citizenship, the House Democratic proposal is likely doomed.

But despite GOP opposition, Becerra said many rank-and-file House Republicans privately have expressed interest in giving illegal residents a way to earn citizenship.

"We know that there are a number of Republicans in the House who are ready to vote for a comprehensive fix to our broken immigration system," he said. "We want to give them a chance to see that Democrats are serious in reaching out to them. … There's no reason to wait."

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Sean Lengell

Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner