CAPITOL HILL— Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a petition to try to force a vote on the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed in the Senate last year, legislation that remains stalled in the Republican-controlled House. Republican House leaders, who hold the majority, say they prefer a step-by-step approach to a massive immigration reform bill, leading even Democrats to conclude their maneuver today has little chance of success.
Braving strong winds and snow showers, some Democratic lawmakers and immigrants’ rights activists gathered Wednesday on the East Front steps of the U.S. Capitol. Democratic Congressman Javier Becerra said nothing could stop them from asking Republican House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote on immigration reform.
“Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, right?” said Becerra.
Later, Democrats staged a procedural maneuver on the floor on the House of Representatives to try to force a vote on the immigration package. The Republican leadership has said it is not planning a vote, in part, because they say they don't trust President Barack Obama to enforce immigration laws.
One Democratic member after another asked the Republican who held the floor to hold a vote on immigration. Here is one exchange between Representatives Janice Schakowksi and Doug Collins:
“I ask unanimous consent to bring up HR 15 to demand a vote on the bipartisan immigration reform bill that unites our families,” said Schakowski. "The chair understands that the gentlemen from Utah has not yielded for that purpose, and therefore unanimous consent requests cannot be entertained," said Collins.
Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro conceded to VOA that the so-called discharge petition to force a vote is highly unlikely to get the 218 required signatures.
“You know and it works every once in a while, there is no question that it is a tough thing to do, it is not an easy process. But you know, we are hoping on this, where there is so much public support, and where we know by the numbers that if you put a bill on the floor today, there are enough folks who support it that it would pass,” said Castro.
Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart is one of a bipartisan group that has been working to craft some form of immigration compromise, which would include Republican demands for stricter border controls and Democratic demands that an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants who are already living in the United States gain legal status. Diaz-Balart told VOA the action on the House floor was political theater.
“The reality is this, that there is a number of us who have been working and trying to get immigration reform. If we are going to get it done, and I think we will, it has to be done in a bipartisan way,” said Diaz-Balart.
In a statement, the president said he “applauds the efforts of Democrats in the House to give immigration reform the yes-or-no vote it deserves.” The president has come under increasing pressure from immigrant families to provide relief to undocumented people who fear deportation. Analysts say any substantial legislative action on immigration reform is unlikely ahead of midterm congressional elections this November.