Darrell Issa to introduce immigration bill
By: Seung Min Kim
October 23, 2013 06:59 PM EDT
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is planning to release legislation next week that would provide legal status for six years to undocumented immigrants in the United States, he said in an interview Wednesday.
Issa, an influential Republican who leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, described the legislation as a “come-from-the-shadows” effort that would allow the government to do a full accounting of those who are in the U.S. illegally. Immigrants in this new status would be able to travel to their native country while on this temporary visa, he said.
“It’s halfway – and it always has been – halfway between full amnesty and simply rejecting people,” Issa told POLITICO on Wednesday. “I think if we’re going to break this logjam that’s occurred for my whole 13 years I’ve been in Congress, we have to find middle ground.”
Issa’s legislation would be the first bill this year released from House Republicans to provide legalization for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants. Still, immigration reform faces an uphill battle in the GOP-led House, where conservatives are resisting the type of sweeping reforms that passed the Democratic-led Senate in June.
Issa’s forthcoming legislation takes elements from similar legislation he introduced in December 2003, the Alien Accountability Act. The six-year period is intended to whittle down the undocumented immigrant population into several categories, such as immigrants with family ties to U.S. citizens or immigrants who want to participate in a guest-worker program.
Bringing undocumented immigrants out “of the shadows” would also help the government identify undocumented immigrants with a criminal background, who would be deported from the United States, Issa said.
“If somebody has a nexus that would reasonably allow them to become permanent residents and American citizen, we should allow them to do that,” Issa said. He added: “Our view is that long before six years, people would be in those categories heading toward some other pathway, in a guest worker program, or of course, have left the country.”
The lawmaker added that he was in talks with a “number” of other lawmakers to sign on to the legislation, but declined to provide names. Issa has also written a bill aimed at increasing the number of high-skilled immigrants to the country, which passed the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year.
A spokeswoman for the Judiciary Committee did not respond as to whether the panel’s chairman, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, will schedule the bill to be marked up.
At an immigration forum on Wednesday, other rank-and-file Republican lawmakers who could be vital to the reform effort in the House signaled some headway on other immigration measures that have been discussed but have yet to be introduced.
Rep. Mike Coffman, who represents a swing district in Colorado with about 20 percent Latino residents, and California Rep. David Valadao, whose district is 70 percent Latino, said they were both working with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on legislation for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Coffman – a veteran of both Gulf Wars — said the so-called “Kids Act” would integrate parts of a bill he has introduced that would allow young undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship by serving in the military. The Kids Act is also expected to include education requirements.
A Cantor spokesman said Wednesday there is no timetable to release the bill, which has been in the works for several months.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called immigration reform an “important subject that needs to be addressed,” and while he said he was “hopeful,” he was non-committal on a timeline for bills to be brought to the House floor.
Valadao added that he has had several conversations with the House’s top Republican, and Boehner has told him that he still expects a vote on immigration reform by the end of the year.
“I’m going to do my best to hold him to that,” Valadao said, later adding that “every conversation I’ve had with him tells me that he agrees we’ve got to be part of this conversation.”
Still, despite behind-the-scenes progress on writing new immigration measures, it’s unclear whether legalization bills drafted by Republicans would be able to pass the House, particularly if Democrats withhold their votes. A bloc of conservatives say they will oppose any immigration measure brought to the House floor.
In an interview Wednesday, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who has been working with other lawmakers on legislation that would deal with the broader undocumented population, said legalization bills will not be able to get support from a majority of House Republicans – required under the so-called Hastert Rule – unless border security and interior enforcement measures were strengthened.
One top House Democrat who has negotiated immigration measures with the Republicans in the past did not rule out providing Democratic votes for GOP legislation, depending on the policy.
“We are open to working with our Republican colleagues on anything so long as it is something real that could move the ball forward,” California Rep. Xavier Becerra, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, told reporters on Wednesday.
Still, other House Democrats were skeptical that the Republicans’ so-called piecemeal approach – which would overhaul sections of the U.S. immigration system in multiple bills, rather than one sweeping comprehensive measure – would work.
Instead, nearly all House Democrats have signed onto a bill that mirrors the Senate Gang of Eight bill, minus its border-security provisions. That legislation has no Republican co-sponsors.
“The idea that that same party who cannot pass anything … is now piecemeal going to do this is a fallacy,” said Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), one of the chief sponsors of that legislation.