While efforts to avoid a looming government shutdown and debt crisis have dominated Capitol Hill this week, a group of House Democrats is quietly working behind the scenes to draft a comprehensive immigration reform bill they hope could win some Republican support.
The measure would incorporate key provisions from a comprehensive that passed the Senate in June with wide bipartisan support, including a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, and a border security measure that cleared a House panel a month earlier.
The new proposal, spearheaded by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is expected to be introduced within the next two weeks with the support of House Democratic leaders.
"It's not the bill Democrats alone would write. It's offering a compromise," said a senior House Democratic aide with knowledge of the bill. "It's a bill that anyone in the House — Republican or Democrat — could support if they indeed are in favor of comprehensive immigration reform."
The new legislation 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. A similar provision was the centerpiece of the Senate bill that passed 68-32 in the Democratically controlled chamber. The plan would drop a Republican amendment in the Senate measure that calls for 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, the completion of 700 miles of fencing and deployment of an array of high-tech devices along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Democratic proposal also would incorporate bipartisan legislation that unanimously passed the House Homeland Security Committee that calls for the Homeland Security Department to set definitive border security benchmarks to measure whether the U.S. has achieved "operational control" of its borders within two years.
The inclusion of the House border security bill is intended to entice Republican support. But House Republicans generally opposed to the notion of giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, likely dooming the Democratic measure.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Wednesday that House Republicans who control the chamber almost certainly won't allow a vote on the latest Democratic proposal. Still, he said introducing the measure would allow Democrats to "tell the American public our position and show to them our position and have them organize around that position."