Immigration overhaul set back; two GOP lawmakers abandon talks

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) speaks during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. He was one of two GOP lawmakers to abandon bipartisan talks on immigration reform Friday.
(Charles Dharapak / Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – Hopes for a sweeping immigration overhaul suffered another serious setback Friday, when two key Republican lawmakers ended their collaboration with a bipartisan House working group.

Reps. John Carter (R-Texas) and Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who had been working with a bipartisan immigration group for years, blamed their departure on President Obama, saying they did not trust that if Congress developed new immigration laws, the administration would adhere to them.

“The bottom line is -- the American people do not trust the president to enforce laws, and we don’t either,” Carter and Johnson wrote in a joint statement, pointing to the White House’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law that has undergone adjustments, as an example of the administration’s selective approach to enforcing laws. “We have reached a tipping point and can no longer continue working on a broad approach to immigration. We want to be clear. The problem is politics.”


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The once-eight-member House immigration group – four Republicans and four Democrats – has now essentially disbanded, leaving little hope for the emergence of a bipartisan immigration framework. Another key Republican, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, walked away from talks earlier this year.

Advocates of changing the nation’s immigration laws had expected the House group would provide a legislative road map, much the way a similar bipartisan group of senators, led by John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), ushered a comprehensive immigration overhaul through the Senate last spring.

But in the face of steep resistance from Republicans in the House, the group’s work is all but on hold.

“It saddens me that our working group is at an impasse and has been unable to introduce legislation,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles).

The departing Republicans said they preferred their party’s piecemeal approach to changing immigration law. The cornerstone of the bipartisan group’s effort – a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country without legal status – has not been embraced by the rest of the House GOP.

Instead, House Republicans have crafted bills to beef up border security, bring in new guest workers and require employers to verify the legal status of workers – but not to provide a legal option to those immigrants who crossed into the U.S. illegally or stayed in the country on expired visas.

GOP leaders nationally are trying to improve their standing among Latino voters by considering immigration issues, which is a top priority for many Latinos and minority groups. But the party risks being blamed for the failure of an immigration overhaul in this Congress, and Democrats said the pressure was on House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring legislation for a vote.

“It is clear the bipartisan group’s work was not being embraced by Republican leaders,” said Rep. Luis V. Guiterrez (D-Ill.), another leader in the group, “so this allows us to put the focus squarely on Speaker Boehner and his lieutenants to decide if they are serious about reform and, if so, to do something more than talk.”

Leaders from both parties met Thursday to discuss immigration with Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, who has been among the business leaders encouraging Congress to consider changing immigration laws.

Advocacy groups continue to pressure Congress to act, warning that their members will campaign against lawmakers who block immigration efforts during next year’s congressional midterm elections.

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