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Democrats in the House of Representatives will try to force a vote on immigration reform at the end of the month, but party leadership isn’t optimistic about the chances of success.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Thursday that leaders would move ahead with a procedural maneuver called a discharge petition, which would allow House Democrats to bring an immigration bill to the floor for a vote, after a week-long recess that ends March 24.

A 218-vote majority would be needed for the gambit to work, and Hoyer acknowledged that it isn’t likely to win over enough Republicans to advance. Still, he argued the move has a purpose.

“The probability is we won’t get the discharge petition,” he said. “But it is a vehicle for people to look at and say, ‘Look, either sign the discharge petition or get your leadership to bring [an immigration reform bill] to the floor.”

House Democrats hope to use the petition to force a vote on H.R. 15, a comprehensive bill addressing border security, future flows of immigration and citizenship for undocumented immigrants.


Hoyer and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) met with a group of reporters at the Capitol to discuss the party’s initiatives on the minimum wage and immigration, among other issues.

A once-rosy outlook for immigration reform in Congress has grown bleaker by the day. In June 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, a compromise with the backing of the country’s biggest labor and business groups.

Republicans hold the majority in the House of Representatives, however, and have said in recent months that they won’t bring immigration legislation to a vote because they can’t trust President Obama to enforce existing laws.


In a sign of the chasm between House Democrats and Republicans on immigration, the House GOP passed a bill on Wednesday meant to curb the president’s executive authority on a range of issues, including immigration. The measure promises to go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate but it serves as a protest against the president’s immigration policies.

Democrats want to keep the pressure on Republicans to vote on an immigration reform bill, though, and intend to move forward with a discharge petition on the week of March 24, following a break that begins next week.

Activists aren’t satisfied with that approach. Janet Murguía, the president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic-rights organization, recently labeled President Obama “deporter-in-chief” and demanded that he halt deportations, which have soared during his presidency.


Some Democrats in Congress have also come out in support of a moratorium on deportations. A group of three lawmakers from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were scheduled to meet with President Obama on Thursday, as the group debates a resolution that criticizes the president’s deportation policies.

The leadership isn’t quite there, yet, Minority Whip Hoyer said Thursday. But such a decision won’t be beyond consideration once they’ve given up on immigration reform.

“The frustration level is rightfully growing,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to figure it out. Because if we can’t act to reform a system, we ought not to pursue its bad effects.”


Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.