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Advocates press on, despite grim 2013 outlook for immigration reform

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WASHINGTON – Immigration overhaul advocates said they will keep fighting, despite a House Republican leader’s comment last week that there is not enough time left on this year’s legislative calendar to act on the issue.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., “is wrong – there is still time,” said Dawn Le, deputy campaign director of Alliance for Citizenship, which helped organize national rallies in more than 150 cities in October to press the House on the issue.

McCarthy told advocates who were protesting outside his house Thursday that he is committed to fixing the nation’s immigration system – in 2014. There is simply not enough time left for the House to act in 2013, he said, according to an Associated Press account of the meeting.

A McCarthy aide confirmed the remarks in an email Tuesday, but declined to comment further. As of Wednesday, there are just 15 legislative days left on the House calendar for 2013.

But advocates contacted Tuesday said they “don’t have the luxury to give up” the fight yet.

“Every day in this country there are 1,100 people being deported,” said James Garcia, spokesman for Promise Arizona. He said those in deportation proceedings are fathers and mothers, and that it is urgent for Congress to address the issue in a humane way.

The Senate in June passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a minimum 13-year path to citizenship and toughened border security, as well as a revamped visa system.

But the 1,200-page bill has stalled in the House, where Speaker John Boehner said he wants to take a step-by-step approach to the problems of immigration in the U.S. instead of the comprehensive approach taken by the Senate.

House Republicans have introduced a number of smaller immigration measures that encompass most of the goals of the overall Senate bill.

But advocates said it is time to act.

“We should not take excuses about time any more,” said Le, adding that it only takes one day to vote and “there surely is time to end the moral crisis.”

In the meantime, grass-roots groups continue to send immigrant families to Washington to make their case with lamwkers.

Neighborhood Ministries, which sent 44 people from Phoenix to Washington in October to pray and press their case outside Boehner’s office, plans to send more buses on Nov. 30, said Ian Danley, youth programs director of the group. Those people will also pray outside the offices of House Republicans, he said.

And buses from New York, Boston and Philadelphia are scheduled to come to the capital Thursday.

Raquel Teran, Arizona director of Mi Familia Vota, said she is frustrated with the delay on the vote but believed “it has to be done soon.”

“It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” said Teran, who said a fast has been planned in Phoenix this week and next.

Protesters also brought the fast to Washington. Gina Sanchez, a Phoenix resident and Mexican immigrant, joined a fast Tuesday in Washington with several others from across the country, said Garcia.

Sanchez was arrested in early October with nearly 200 other protesters, including Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, during an immigration reform protest.

Immigrants are not the only ones pressing for action.

Brett Hunt, western coordinator of Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform, said “the country is ready for reform.” Hunt was among 20 Arizona business, religious and law enforcement leaders who joined more than 600 others from more than 40 states in a national “fly-in” of advocates in October.

Hunt said he was more encouraged than ever after those meetings and said the House needs to make immigration reform a priority next year.

“It can happen, and it has to happen,” Hunt said.

But Garcia still hopes something can be done this year. He said he is encouraged by the consensus in the country that an immigration overhaul is important and has to be dealt with.

“We will continue to remind America with our allies until some sort of comprehensive immigration bill is passed,” he said.

Danley agreed.

“Our families are still full of hope and we will continue to pray for the House leadership that they have the courage to do the right thing,” he said.