WASHINGTON, March 26, 2014 – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and a handful of House Democrats announced today they are circulating a discharge petition among lawmakers that would allow an immigration reform package to receive a floor vote over the objections of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The rarely-used procedure requires 218 signatures to allow the legislation (H.R. 15) to bypass committees and receive a straight up-or-down vote. Among other reforms, the bill seeks to provide undocumented farm workers with a path to legal status.
“Enough is enough, and Democrats are demanding a vote,” Pelosi said. “It is time for Republicans to stop catering to the most extreme, anti-immigrant wing of their caucus, and allow a vote on the bipartisan immigration reform our nation so urgently needs.”
The effort is likely to fail, however, as Democrats would need about 20 Republicans to sign on to the petition. While the bill does have some Republican support, many of the lawmakers would be unlikely to oppose leadership.
Still, President Obama praised the Democrats’ efforts in a statement today. “Last year, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate came together to pass a commonsense bill to fix our broken immigration system – a bill that would grow our economy, shrink our deficits, and reward businesses and workers that play by the rules,” Obama said. “But so far, Republicans in the House have refused to allow meaningful immigration reform legislation to even come up for a vote.”
Both Obama and Pelosi noted a recent Congressional Budget Office report that estimated the legislation would reduce the deficit by $900 billion over 20 years.
The bill largely mirrors the Senate-passed bill (S. 744), which would allow undocumented farm workers to become eligible for an immigrant visa status called a “blue card.” Under the legislation, blue-card holders could apply for lawful permanent resident status after five years if they have continued to work in agriculture, paid their taxes, and pay a fine.
The Democratic legislation would mandate use of the federal work authorization system, E-Verify, for all employers, including farming operations, within five years.
For its part, House Republican leadership has taken a piecemeal approach to the immigration issue focusing mainly on border security. Addressing undocumented farm workers, the House Judiciary Committee approved June 19 the Agricultural Guestworker Act. The bill, authored by Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would replace the existing H-2A agricultural visa program with a new H-2C program. The bill proposes to allow up to 500,000 temporary agricultural laborers into the United States per year. The visa would allow workers to stay in the US for up to 18 months, as opposed to the maximum of one year issued to H-2A visa holders. Goodlatte’s committee also approved a mandate of the use of E-Verify in a separate bill.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., and Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., joined Pelosi in announcing the petition.
“We will move forward with the discharge petition, because one person should not stand in the way of the will of the majority of the American people,” Horsford said. “We have the votes, now we just need a vote.”
Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law
Center (NILC), said the petition puts “the ball in Boehner’s court.” “It is time for
him to lead for the good of the country instead of cowering in fear of losing
his speakership,” she said.
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