Published Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Updated Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 | 9:42 a.m.
On the sidelines of the government shutdown, lawmakers frustrated with the House’s slow-walking of immigration reform are taking steps to push leaders forward on the issue.
By the end of the month, three of Nevada’s House representatives may have drafted immigration bills to try to edge the most contentious part of the debate — pathways to citizenship — back into the spotlight.
Yes, three — and two of the three are Republicans. (Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford released comprehensive reform legislation Wednesday.)
Nevada Republican Reps. Mark Amodei and Joe Heck, frustrated at how long it is taking the House to formally address the issue, are taking steps to put out bills addressing pathways to legal status for immigrants in the United States without authorization.
After the Senate passed comprehensive immigration legislation in June, the House GOP pledged to consider a series of more narrowly focused bills that together would cover the full spectrum of immigration reform, from border security to pathways to citizenship for at least some immigrants without legal status.
But a crisis in Syria and now the government shutdown have delayed progress — and may continue to do so. Congress still has to get the government back up and running with a budget and devise a way to avoid hitting the debt ceiling before lawmakers are politically or pragmatically able to turn their attention back to immigration.
That doesn’t sit well with Amodei or Heck, who say that the country shouldn’t have to wait that long to see legislation, even if the House doesn’t end up voting on it for several months.
“I am deferring to a couple of people who are working on this, but that deference doesn’t last forever,” Amodei said.
Amodei is taking stock of draft proposals others have been working on to establish pathways to legal status for unauthorized immigrants, to potentially present them as a composite bill.
Heck is also anxious.
“I’d like to see (a bill) as soon as practically possible,” Heck told the Sun this week, explaining that he had already submitted proposals, culled from meetings with constituents in Nevada.
Heck added that he hoped to introduce legislation “as soon as the bill drafters draft something.”
Heck’s legislation will not look exactly like the Dream Act legislation that passed as part of the Senate bill, he said. The Senate legislation offers a pathway to citizenship just for college student and those who enroll in the military; Heck is looking at addressing young immigrants without status who complete an apprenticeship or other training program that readies them for full participation in the American economy.
“The goal is to be able to have people be able to work and support their families,” Heck said, pointing out that in the current economy, a college degree is not necessarily the best guarantor of that economic ability.
While Heck and Amodei have official roles in the House Republicans’ immigration strategy, neither one was supposed to be putting pen to paper to draft the House’s official bills on immigration reform.
That responsibility was to fall to either the House Judiciary Committee or a Republican working group that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has convened.
Heck is a member of Cantor’s group, and continues to work in that process as he drafts his own legislation.
Amodei is a member of the House Judiciary committee’s immigration subcommittee.
That puts him in a position to work with both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. Last week, for instance, Amodei huddled with immigration subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., for the better part of a half hour on the House floor, discussing immigration.
She and other members of the Judiciary committee have been part of the ad hoc House gang that had high hopes of producing draft legislation earlier this summer as its counterpart gang in the Senate had done.
Such a bill never materialized from the House-based group, and as the weeks wore on, the center of the House’s immigration debate seemed to retreat back to either party’s camp.
Republicans working on individual bills have not yet released legislation addressing pathways to citizenship, through Cantor’s group or the Judiciary committee.
On Wednesday, a band of Democrats with the sponsorship of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi released an immigration bill that largely parroted the Senate-passed immigration bill from June, including its full passage of the DREAM Act and a 13-year pathway to citizenship for other immigrants living in the United States without legal status.
Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford was a co-author of the House’s legislation.
“This is a legislative solution that should have bipartisan support,” Horsford said Wednesday.
But that bipartisan support may be elusive.
No Republicans have vouched for it, nor have any of the Democrats who have been working through the House’s Gang of Seven to come up with bipartisan legislation.
“Nothing’s going to make it out of Judiciary without at least with some Republicans and Democrats,” Amodei said. “You’re not going to get that bill out of House Judiciary on a party-line vote.”
Both Amodei and Heck indicated that if a better solution materialized in the few weeks remaining before November — particularly from a Republican committee or working group — they would put aside their own efforts, and gladly support it.
But the congressional calendar being what it is, Amodei and Heck are working on their proposals, to fill that gap if they must.
“I’m not doing this for ownership,” Amodei said. “But I do have a desire to see that the process is completed.”