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This Week in Immigration: Comprehensive Reform Bill Hits the House

Protesters march to demand immigration reform in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson).

Today is day seven of the partial government shutdown. One immigration-related bill, renewing the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program for translators, was approved in the last week but it remains to be seen how the shutdown will impact the larger reform movement. In the meantime ABC News-Univision has the answer on what a shutdown means for the federal government’s existing immigration functions.

House Democrats introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill last Wednesday. The bill, H.R. 15, is very similar to the Senate Gang of Eight’s bill, but includes the House Homeland Security Committee’s approved border security bill in place of the Senate “border surge.” The Washington Post’s Wonkblog has a nice explanation of the bill, and California Rep. Judy Chu’s office provides one-page and section-by-section summaries.

By the looks of it not many are optimistic.  Headlines like “House Democrats introduce immigration bill with little chance of a vote,” “Democrats take aim at GOP with long-shot immigration bill,” and “House Dems offer immigration bill, fate uncertain” leave little to the imagination about how many are feeling about the bill. Another blow comes from the likes of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, immigration ally and original House Gang of Eight member, all of whom said the bill will sink.

On the other side of the equation, some think releasing the bill during a government shutdown could attract moderate Republicans at odds with the Tea Party. 

Although Republican anti-immigration stalwarts like Steve King continue their activities, the House GOP leadership has not given up on reforming our immigration system this year. The conservative Weekly Standard recently listed 84 Republicans who support a legalization program, and the Las Vegas Sun reports that Nevada Reps. Mark Amodei and Joe Heck may be contributing to legislation for such a program. California Rep. Jeff Denham was also in the immigration spotlight last week, with an editorial in the Modesto Bee and an interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos on the importance for a pathway to citizenship to be included in reform, as well as a video with Democratic Rep. Julian Castro encouraging the House to act. 

Congressional leaders who spoke at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s conference remained hopeful about the prospects for reform and advocates held more than 150 rallies in 40 states focusing on a pathway to citizenship.

Though federal reform has not materialized, California has taken a lead on dealing with the issues facing their state. Last week Gov. Jerry Brown signed the TRUST Act, along with legislation granting unauthorized immigrants the right to a driver’s license and to practice law. The TRUST Act, recently backed by former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, will require unauthorized immigrants “to be charged with or convicted of a serious offense to be eligible for a 48-hour hold and transfer to U.S. immigration authorities for possible deportation.” The New York Times today ran an editorial praising the state’s bipartisan efforts of “fixing immigration from the ground up.”

California’s TRUST Act comes at a time when prosecutorial discretion seems to be failing and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio will be required to take extra steps to prove his office is no longer racially profiling Latinos. Other states and cities are connecting with immigrants and Latinos, including Dayton, which is beginning to see the returns of extensive campaigns to attract immigrants, and Virginia, where Democrats and Republicans are looking to draw Latino voters in upcoming state elections

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