WASHINGTON (AP) — The third-ranking House Republican told immigration advocates that lawmakers won't vote this year on the issue, confirming what many had long assumed.
California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the majority whip, said in a meeting with immigration proponents that there weren't enough days left for the House to act and he was committed to addressing overhaul of the nation's immigration system next year. The congressman's office confirmed what he said.
Angelica Salas, the board chairwoman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, described her conversation with McCarthy in a conference call with reporters on Friday and a subsequent interview with The Associated Press.
"What he said was, there's 13 days left, it's very hard to do anything in 13 days," Salas said of McCarthy.
The House returns next week after a weeklong break, but only has a few legislative days remaining.
The Senate passed a comprehensive bill in June that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally and tighten border security, but piecemeal bills in the House have languished since the summer.
Salas and about a dozen women occupied McCarthy's Bakersfield, Calif., office on Thursday to increase the pressure on the Republican to move ahead on immigration legislation. Around 11 p.m. that night, McCarthy and his wife, Judy, met with the group protesting the delay.
"He said, 'Ladies, I hear you want to talk to me. This is just not the way to do it,'" Salas recalled. She said McCarthy and the group spoke for about an hour, and the women explained that while they appreciated his support for immigration reform, it was imperative for the House to act as soon as possible.
"This is about political will to do what is right," Salas said. "This is what we're challenging."
Most House Republicans reject a comprehensive approach as well as the Senate bill, with many questioning the offer of citizenship to people who broke U.S. immigration laws to be in this country. The House Judiciary Committee has moved forward with individual, single-issue immigration bills.
Erica Elliott, a spokeswoman for McCarthy, said Friday that he "supports fixing our broken immigration system. He also believes that it is incumbent upon all participants in the debate to work together to address immigration reform on an issue-by-issue basis rather than demanding that any reform only happen in the context of a massive bill that fails to appropriately address the underlying problems plaguing the current process."
Although House Republican leaders say they want to resolve the issue, which has become a political drag for the GOP, many rank-and-file House Republicans have shown little inclination to deal with immigration. The bitter standoff with President Barack Obama on the budget and near default further angered House Republicans, who have resisted any move that might give Obama an immigration overhaul, the top item on his second-term domestic agenda.
Many House Republicans also are wary of passing any immigration legislation that would set up a conference with the Democratic-controlled Senate, fearing the House could lose out in final negotiations.
The Senate bill, strongly backed by the White House, includes billions for border security, a reworked legal immigration system to allow tens of thousands of high- and low-skilled workers into the country and a 13-year path to citizenship for those living here illegally.
The conference call was sponsored by America's Voice, an advocacy group.
Details of McCarthy's conversation comes as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stepped up pressure on the House to act on immigration legislation before the end of the year, calling the issue "a matter of great moral urgency" that cannot wait.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Thursday that he was troubled by reports that immigration reform is delayed in the House since lawmakers have a responsibility to resolve the issue. Writing on behalf of the 450-plus U.S. cardinals and bishops, Dolan said they respectfully request that the House address the immigration issue as soon as possible.
"As a moral matter ... our nation cannot continue to receive the benefits of the work and contributions of undocumented immigrants without extending to them the protection of the law," Dolan wrote. "Keeping these human beings as a permanent underclass of workers who are unable to assert their rights or enjoy the fruits of their labor is a stain on the soul of the nation."