“There are things that are happening in our respective communities and districts around the country and businesses that we have to address and we can’t wait for the Senate,” he said.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said Republican support will be key. “We think there’s a bipartisan desire to do something on immigration that deals with our sovereign right to regulate our borders, to deal with the workplace, and to deal with the 10 million to 12 million people who are here, many of whom don’t deserve to stay, many of whom have earned a chance, if we require them to learn English and abide by all of our laws. But we have to have some bipartisan support.”
Lofgren confirmed Thursday that she is in negotiations over new legislation, but she declined to discuss the details of the new bill, other than to say, “It’s not comprehensive immigration reform.” Lofgren added that she is reaching out to Republicans on the issue and hopes to reach a compromise.
Hispanics have resisted expanding visas sought by businesses unless broader immigration issues are addressed.
The immigration issue also could be affected by the emergence of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as the Republican frontrunner for president, given his support for last year’s failed immigration deal. That appeared to offer just a sliver of daylight to the issue.
A re-emergence of immigration in the coming months would put McCain in a politically awkward position, as he has been seeking to repair ties to conservatives who despise his past support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and yet he will be looking ahead to a general election in which the Hispanic vote could prove critical.
“It depends on which John McCain steps forward,” Becerra said of whether McCain’s emergence will help move the issue.
Pelosi’s office also highlighted the bipartisan angle.
“The Democratic Caucus is continuing to discuss a wide variety of immigration issues, but long-term immigration reform must be comprehensive and bipartisan,” said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami.
But even Republicans who have backed past bipartisan reform efforts are not optimistic anything will happen this election year. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), the co-author of comprehensive legislation backed by Hispanics last year, said he doesn’t see anything happening beyond some tweaking of the level of work visas until the next Congress.
A House GOP leadership aide also dismissed the idea that such legislation would move.
Even if Democratic leaders wanted to ignore the issue wholesale until after the elections, they may not be able to, given the pressure bubbling up within the party. In addition to Hispanics, leaders face pressure from more conservative Democrats who back a package of enforcement measures sponsored by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.).
“A lot of Members in more conservative districts want to be able to cast a vote they can run on,” said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who supports the Shuler legislation. But, Davis asserted, action on that measure should not preclude other legislation from moving ahead.
Democratic leaders could conceivably face a discharge petition on the issue, although any enforcement-only measure would be sure to invite a revolt by Hispanics.
Baca said the legislation under consideration could have some enforcement measures, adding that too much could bog it down.