Border lawmakers are not ready to give up on immigration reform just yet.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., together with Filemon Vela of Texas, introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill on Friday to serve as an alternative to what the Senate passed in June and something supporters can rally around.
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2013 closely mirrors a 2009 version that had more than 100 co-sponsors but failed to advance.
The bill focuses on the ports of entry, requiring the Department of Homeland Security to add at least 5,000 customs officers. The Senate bill would add 3,500 officers but also double the number of Border Patrol agents to nearly 40,000.
Both bills offer a path to citizenship that is more than a decade long and require people to pay a fine and pass background checks. But instead of limiting eligibility to those who entered the country before Dec. 31, 2011, as the Senate’s reform does, Grijalva and Vela’s bill extends it to the day the bill is introduced.
“We introduced the bill with the intent of saying this is the gold standard,” and to pressure lawmakers to act, Grijalva said.
He said it includes security measures but not as excessive as in the Senate bill and a legalization process — the Dream Act for those who were brought to the country as children. The bill also includes resources for the ports of entry and transparency and accountability requirements.
These are all things they heard in Nogales, Brownsville and El Paso during immigration hearings organized by the Congressional Border Caucus over the August recess, Grijalva said.
“We want Democrats to understand these are prevalent issues to people along the border,” Grijalva said.
For many members of the caucus, the border-surge amendment of the Senate bill was a nonstarter. In July, Vela quit the Congressional Hispanic Caucus over it.
And simply waiting is not the answer, the lawmakers have said.
A bipartisan group of House representatives has been working for years on a comprehensive approach to immigration but so far has not presented a bill and on Friday lost two more Republican members.
Texas Reps. Sam Johnson and John Carter said in a joint statement they decided to leave because they don’t trust President Obama will enforce the law.
“President Obama time and again has unilaterally disregarded the U.S. Constitution, the letter of the law, and bypassed the Congress — the body most representative of the people — in order to advance his political agenda,” they said in a news release.
Rep. Raúl Labrador of Idaho left in June over disagreements on providing health care to unauthorized immigrants.
Given the time constraints and political climate, it is not likely that the group will introduce a bill in the upcoming months.
Meanwhile, the House leadership has been working on a piecemeal approach. Bills dealing with border security, employment verification, agricultural workers and high-skilled visas have come out of committee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., pledged action Thursday on immigration overhaul legislation, The Associated Press reported.
Ultimately, it’s all going to be a compromise, but the border members want to raise awareness of the issues that matter to border communities, Grijalva said.
Even if the bill doesn’t come up for a vote, Grijalva said he and Vela hope to get at least 60 sponsors in order to have some leverage and get portions of the bill in any final legislation.
“We feel our side of the story hasn’t been adequately addressed or heard,” he said.
“We needed to have something we can defend as also being immigration reform, but with a much more humane and just process.”