Launching the discharge petition to get a floor vote on immigration reform legislation is the last possible option Democrats have left to force legislative action on the issue this year, Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) insisted Friday.
A number of Republicans and even some immigration reform supporters have said the discharge petition filed by House Democrats on Wednesday is a political maneuver and a big ploy to make political gains in the upcoming midterm elections, rather than a genuine attempt to pass legislation.
Theyve also said Democrats wont be able to get the 218 signatures needed from House members to force the floor vote on HR 15, the immigration reform bill introduced by Garcia and other House Democrats in October. The bill is very similar to the one approved in the Senate last June.
But during a conference call with reporters on Friday, Garcia responded to the criticism saying that by filing the discharge petition, he and other House Democrats are simply using the last option thats available to pass an immigration reform bill before the end of this year.
We need to use the political system to solve a real problem for the American nation, he said. And part of that is I want to exhaust every possibility.
He added that Democrats have exhausted every legal alternative there is to get immigration reform legislation passed in Congress. He said theyve tried to get the House to take up the Senate bill, which Republicans rejected. Theyve also tried to introduce an alternative bill, HR 15, that includes provisions supported by Republicans. And finally, they filed the discharge petition in order to force a floor vote.
Theres nothing left to do, Garcia said.
Democrats accused of playing politics
Garcias remarks came days after two national immigration advocates said they saw the filing of the discharge petition as a political move by House Democrats to gain votes in the November midterm elections.
In a statement posted on her Facebook page on Wednesday, Gaby Pacheco said she doesnt see the discharge petition as a real attempt by House Democrats to get immigration reform legislation passed. Instead, she said the petition is just a fake attempt to make Republicans hurt.
The truth is Democrats want Republicans to hurt, she said. Republicans havent been good to our communities but they are still in power so something drastic had to be done to come on top of Republicans in the next elections.
They need something to run on because Democrats are in great danger of losing the Senate, she continued. Thus this big ploy of the discharge petition.
Erika Andiola had a similar opinion. In an op-ed published Wednesday on the Huffington Post, she said there is no way that House Democrats will be able to get enough Republicans to sign the discharge petition to force a floor vote on HR 15.
Anyone who is saying that it is possible, knows that they are lying to our communities, she wrote. This is all a political maneuver to take pressure away from Obama and use [comprehensive immigration reform] to get Latinos to elect more Democrats in Congress.
She ended the op-ed, saying House Democrats should show leadership and demand the President stop deporting the same people that they are trying to legalize.
Garcia indicated Friday he does support putting pressure on Obama to stop deportations but not until the window of opportunity to pass immigration reform legislation closes this year. He added that if House Republicans block immigration reform, were going to need [the president] to do something.
We all want the same solution
Immigration reform supporters who also joined the conference call with reporters on Friday agreed with Garcia.
Maria Elena Durazo, who chairs the AFL-CIOs national immigration committee, recalled how several years ago, advocates called on Democrats to be far more proactive in their efforts to push for immigration reform. She said launching the discharge petition on HR 15 is an example of how Democrats are acting in a very proactive way to push for reform.
It would be a bigger tragedy if the Democrats were silent and just stood by while the Republicans said no, she said.
Meanwhile, Frank Sharry, executive director of Americas Voice, said there are currently two kinds of immigration reform advocates: those who are focused on pressuring Obama to stop deportations if Congress doesnt pass an immigration reform, like Pacheco and Andiola, and those who want to maximize the pressure on House Republicans to vote on immigration reform.
This isnt like some big division in the movement. This is what movements do, he said. You have some who say lets act now. You have others who say lets play out this possibility and then well pivot. But these are really tactical differences of timing and emphasis and not fundamental differences of strategy.
Sharry added that he respects Pacheco and Andiolas opinions. He referred to them as friends and leaders in the movement who want to intervene on the moral crisis of deportations and achieve the same solution as other advocates.
Garcia jumped in, saying he is not being critical of anyone.
Everyone is working to try to find a solution, he said. I from a legislative point of view can do certain things that are within my power. Those are the tools that I have in my hand But in the end, we all want the same solution.