News Column

Rep. Garcia Steps Up to Major Role in Immigration

October 3, 2013

Rep. Joe Garcia became the third Miami congressman this year to play a major role in the nation's immigration debate when he joined House Democrats on Wednesday to unveil a bipartisan plan that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

But unlike Miami U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Garcia isn't a Republican. And the bill Garcia and fellow Democrats are pushing has so little chance of passing right now that, coupled with the all-Democrat cast that unveiled the proposal, the legislation is perceived on Capitol Hill to be more of a political play to pressure stalling House Republicans.

The Democrats' legislation combines a Senate bill, passed with Rubio's help, and a Republican border-security measure that passed a House committee.

"We put them both together," Garcia said. "We're not introducing the perfect bill. We're introducing a comprehensive reform bill that provides that space for compromise."

But the House hasn't been a place for major compromise when it comes to immigration reform.

The Democrats' plan, largely a word-for-word reprint of the Senate bill, has little chance of even being heard in the House. A significant number of House Republicans oppose a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants illegally in this country.

The experience of Rubio, who backed the measure in the Senate and was then pilloried in conservative media and by tea party groups, served as a cautionary tale to some Republicans about the danger of embracing what's derisively called "amnesty."

A spokesman for the House's Republican leader, Eric Cantor, told the Huffington Post that the House Democrats' measure wouldn't be placed on the calendar for a vote.

Democrats said passing immigration reform would show the public that Congress, which can't agree on a budget and has partly shut down the federal government, could pass meaningful legislation. But House Republicans are holding firm.

No House Republicans have signed on to the Democrats' bill, not even Diaz-Balart. He has spent years trying to come up with a compromise bill with a bipartisan group that included his longtime friend, Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez.

In a sign of the bill's long odds in the House, Gutierrez wasn't at Wednesday's press conference. Gutierrez said in a speech on the House floor that he would support the measure, however.

Another member of the now-disbanded House group, California Rep. Xavier Becerra, kicked off Wednesday's press conference and talked up its bipartisan nature. Becerra, however, was blamed by some Republicans and Democrats for helping scuttle the bipartisan group's plans so that Democrats could later use the issue in election season to continue courting Hispanics.

But Democrats at Wednesday's press conference indicated that House Republicans could easily make the issue go away by giving a full floor vote to the Senate bill or the new House bill. They say there are enough moderate Republicans who would join with Democrats to pass either measure.

House Speaker John Boehner, however, has said he won't put a bill on the floor that a majority of his caucus won't support.

Garcia indicated the House wasn't paying attention to the 2012 election results. "Americans across the country sent a message," he said. "And that message was loud and clear. It was heard in the Senate, and unfortunately that message has not been heard in the... House."

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(c)2013 The Miami Herald

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Original headline: Rep. Garcia is new Miami face of long-odds immigration push



Source: (c)2013 The Miami Herald