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Castro: No Split Among Democrats on Immigration Reform

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro said that despite reports that some Democrats are urging their colleagues not to work with Republicans on immigration reform, the party wants to see something pass before the year ends.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, at a victory party for congressional candidate Pete Gallego at Don Pedro Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio on Nov. 6, 2012.

Though they have disagreements on some policy aspects of immigration reform, congressional Democrats are not advocating a quiet, do-nothing approach in order to stockpile ammo for the next election, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro said Wednesday.

Castro, D-San Antonio, said that despite recent statements by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. — a firebrand on the immigration issue — there isn't a wedge within the party on the issue.

“No Democrat has told me, ‘Let’s not pass something because we want to use this in next year’s election,’” he said. “I think there are legitimate concerns among Democrats, especially what policy concessions we should make to Republicans, and there is certainly pushback on different elements of that. But I have not heard any pushback on wanting to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

Gutierrez, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s Immigration Task Force Committee and a member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, said last week during a speech that members were urging him not to reach out to the hard-line faction of the GOP.

“When someone does reach across the aisle to say, ‘Hey, let's work on this issue together,’ what do we get? ‘Hey, why are you helping them?’ I've heard it,” he said, according to transcripts of the recent floor speech.  “I heard from the Democrats, ‘Stop working with them, we're trying to defeat them.’"

Gutierrez spokesman Douglas Rivlin said Tuesday that there hasn’t been much dialogue this week because House members only convened for two days. The office was hopeful about a possible compromise however, after two House Republicans, Jeff Denham of California and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, signed on to the House Democrats’ latest reform bill, HR 15.

The House calendar, which shows 16 House floor days remaining before the Christmas break, indicates members will have to scramble to get something out of the lower chamber before the year ends. 

“They have to decide exactly what immigration bills, if any, they want to bring to the floor,” Rivlin said. “Because the real question is, how do we get to a conference with the Senate and get a bill to the president’s desk?”

Castro added that he intends to reach out to U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, the Homeland Security Committee chairman. McCaul’s border security bill, HR 1417, was included in the House version of the bill.

It would establish border security metrics and goals, including achieving “operational control,” defined as achieving a 90 percent apprehension rate for illegal border crossers and a significant reduction of the movement of drugs and other contraband.

It was added in place of the Senate bill’s border measure, the Corker-Hoeven amendment. That amendment would double the number of U.S. Border Patrol officers and add hundreds of miles of fencing on the southern border. It would also cost billions.

But McCaul hasn’t openly supported the House’s comprehensive bill and was part of the lower chamber’s leadership that rejected such an approach, calling for a piecemeal effort instead. On Tuesday, a Homeland Security aide said nothing has changed.

Castro said that because the chairman’s effort drew bipartisan support and was voted out of committee unanimously, he hoped McCaul would work with his colleagues on a larger scale.

“It’s clear that we have adopted his language wholesale and inserted it and combined it in the Senate bill,” Castro said. “I hope that just like there was a good-faith effort in the House committee to support that bill, there will be a good-faith effort to support it as it’s rolled in to the Senate bill.”

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