WASHINGTON (AP) — A group of Catholic bishops, evangelical leaders and advocates pressured top House Republicans to vote this year on overhauling immigration in a series of private meetings on Wednesday.
With legislation stalled in the House and prospects dimming, proponents argued that action is a moral imperative and offered the unique, united front of Catholics and evangelicals imploring the House to move ahead.
Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle called it an "historic moment" and said they "reaffirmed that every day of delay, the consequences are separated families."
The participants, who spoke to The Associated Press, said they received neither assurances of a vote this year nor definitive word that it won't happen.
Elizondo was joined by three other bishops — Bishop Robert McElroy, the auxiliary bishop of San Francisco; Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange County, Calif., and Bishop John Charles Wester of Salt Lake City. Rev. Gabriel Salguero, the president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, and Leith Anderson, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, were part of the lobbying group.
"We want to see a vote this year," said Salguero, who added that the House GOP leaders' principles on immigration in January had provided a glimmer of hope.
The group met with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the chairman of the House Republican Conference; Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the Budget Committee chairman who has spoken favorably about acting on immigration; Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Becky Tallent, a top aide to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on immigration issues.
The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill last June with strong bipartisan support that would create a pathway for citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally, tighten border security and establish new visa and enforcement programs. The measure has languished in the House despite calls from national Republicans, business groups, religious organizations and labor for lawmakers to act.
Prominent Republicans have warned that the party's refusal to address the immigration issue alienates Hispanics, the fastest growing voting bloc, and will cost the GOP in the 2016 presidential election and beyond.
Jim Wallis, president and founder of Sojourners, said the time for a vote is before Congress breaks in August. Anderson said a delay is a vote for the status quo of a dysfunctional immigration system.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said no lawmaker told them, "I'm sorry it can't happen."
In January, Boehner and other GOP leaders unveiled a set of principles that Latino groups and proponents of reform welcomed.
But their hopes were dashed as rank-and-file Republicans signaled they were wary of tackling the divisive issue in an election year and undercutting the GOP's positive chances in the midterm races. Republicans are increasingly confident that they can gain seats in November and seize control of the Senate.
Boehner blamed distrust of Obama for the slim prospects.
That sentiment was clear from at least one House Republican.
"Immigration's dead," said Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana after the House GOP's weekly closed-door meeting." Look even if we all agreed on a reform measure, it's pointless to pass it because the Senate would completely change it and even if they didn't, the president wouldn't enforce it. So the president has only himself to blame that there's no reform coming out."