Hoping to revive the stalled debate over immigration reform, Democrats in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives unveiled a bill Wednesday that would overhaul U.S. immigration laws by tightening border security and providing a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Amid the grips of a government shutdown, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and more than a dozen other Democrats announced the measure at a news conference on Capitol Hill, saying their Republican colleagues should put a comprehensive immigration bill up for vote before the end of the year.
"Republicans like Ronald Reagan and George Bush to John McCain championed immigration reform," Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., told reporters at the news conference. "There is no reason why our Republican colleagues cannot follow their lead and their footsteps to pass a comprehensive immigration bill."
But GOP critics immediately panned the bill — no House Republicans have backed it yet — and said it was unlikely to get a vote, especially as Capitol Hill legislators remain deadlocked over the federal budget. The measure "is basically the Senate bill," Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., told USA Today, referring to the comprehensive immigration measure approved in July. "I strongly oppose the Senate bill."
The House Democrats' plan mirrors the Senate measure in many ways. It would permit undocumented immigrants to obtain temporary legal status within six months and to apply for U.S. citizenship within 13 years. And like the Senate bill, the House version would require employers to use a new version of E-Verify, the online system that checks the citizen status of potential employees — a system blasted by immigration advocates for often incorrectly flagging authorized workers and failing to identify fraud.
But the House version varies from the Senate measure in one significant way. It drops the $46 billion border security plan introduced by the Senate, which would double the number of federal border agents to 40,000 and complete 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Instead, the House bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a strategy to gain operational control of the border within five years and stop 90 percent of people trying to enter the U.S. The measure also calls on the Government Accountability Office to oversee the border security plan.
Immigration advocates praised the House plan as an attempt to mobilize the immigration debate in Congress.
"Clearly, both Democrats and Republicans are hearing the call for broad immigration reform," Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement. "This call is coming from constituents across the political spectrum. Today's announcement continues the conversation in Congress."
Wednesday's measure comes amid signs that Hispanics are increasingly aligning themselves with Democrats. A poll released last week shows that nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Latinos feel closer to the Democratic Party than they did in the past. Fewer than 3 in 10 (29 percent) of Hispanics feel the same way about the Republican Party. The survey also finds that Democrats have a sizable perception advantage over Republicans. Forty-three percent of Hispanics, for example, say the phrase "cares about people like you" better describes the Democratic Party, while 12 percent say the phrase better describes the GOP.
Immigration advocates, meanwhile, plan a series of marches Saturday across roughly 90 cities. They hope the so-called National Day of Action will spur congressional leaders to pass comprehensive immigration legislation. Those marches will be followed by an immigration rally and concert next Tuesday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. If the federal government remains shut down next week, the rally will take place on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, organizers said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report