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Push for comprehensive immigration reform heats up as Congress returns home during August recess

August 9th, 2013  |  Pamela Wolf

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The press for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, is in full swing while Congress is in recess this August. Unions and other groups are taking the fight to the home states of congressional representatives. House Democrats have also made a move calculated to get things moving in the Republican-controlled House.

Unions and partner organizations. Communications Workers of America activists and its partners across the country will be flooding town halls, meeting with their members of Congress, and holding rallies in support of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants, according to a CWA release.

This week in Los Angeles, the AFL-CIO’s Maria Elena Durazo joined Mayor Eric Garcetti and more than 100 community organizations and leaders from the faith, labor, LGBT, student, civic engagement, business, and immigrant rights sectors to demand a vote on immigration reform.

In Iowa, more than 50 members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement packed a meeting with Representative Tom Latham (R-IA) to share their stories and demand action on the pathway to citizenship.

In Texas, almost 50 immigration reform activists from TexasRITA and other groups gathered at Representative Blake Farenthold’s district office to deliver 10,000 petitions asking him to support immigration reform and a path to citizenship.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s immigration reform group, FWD.us, is also bombarding TV airwaves with a six-figure ad-buy aimed at on-the-fence members of Congress over the recess.

Democratic coalition issues ultimatum. The New Democrat Coalition, a group of 53 moderate pro-growth House Members, sent a letter issuing an ultimatum to House Speaker John Boehner on August 2, telling him that if a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a pathway to citizenship is not introduced by September 30, the leading group of moderates in the House of Representatives will advance on a fix to the nation’s broken immigration system. The letter is signed by 39 coalition members.

After releasing principles for a comprehensive immigration reform package in April, the coalition has maintained its effort to build support for a measure that will create American jobs, lower the deficit, and provide an earned pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans with a series of summits with leaders in the technology industry and key figures in the immigration reform debate, including Representative Luis Gutierrez (Ill.) from the bipartisan Gang of Seven in the House and Senator Michael Bennet (Colo.) of the Senate Gang of Eight.

In the face of no action on a bipartisan bill, the New Dems are pushing for action from House Republican leadership. “We are frustrated that there was not a bipartisan immigration reform bill introduced prior to the August recess,” they wrote, citing broad bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

“As New Democrats, we want to convey to Speaker Boehner that it is critical he fulfill his commitment to passing immigration reform legislation that will fix our broken immigration system once and for all,” said New Dem Immigration Task Force Co-Chair Representative Jared Polis. “We agree with the American public that immigration reform must include a pathway to citizenship. We are confident that there is the support for such legislation in the House of Representatives and have let Speaker Boehner know we stand ready to work with his members in a bipartisan fashion to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year. Let’s stop kicking the can down the road.”

A wide gap to bridge. Although the Senate has passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744), the House has dragged its feet, taking a piece-meal approach. The Migration Policy Institute has issued a side-by-side comparison of the Senate bill and the individual bills introduced in the House. The differences in the way the two Chambers have treated the various components of immigration reform is considerable, with the House having covered much less ground; huge gaps remain.

It will be interesting to see if the pressure in their home states will motivate House Members to return after the August recess more willing to tackle immigration reform on a more comprehensive basis.