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House Democrats will try to force vote on immigration reform

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WASHINGTON – House Democrats renewed demands Wednesday for immigration reform, filing a petition that could force House leaders to bring the long-stalled issue up for a vote.

Dozens of Democrats who rallied on the East Front of the Capitol claimed they have enough GOP supporters in the Republican-controlled House to pass a “discharge petition” that would force an immigration reform bill to the floor.

Lawmakers were joined by supporters including actress America Ferrera and the Rev. Randy Mayer of Sahuarita, who called on Republicans to “put country before party” and vote on a “commonsense fix to our broken immigration system.”

“We urge our congressional leaders to put their differences aside, to come together to help our nation heal … from the injustices perpetuated by our immigration system,” Mayer said.

The Senate in June passed a massive reform bill that called for tighter border security, a revamped visa program and an arduous process that would allow some of the estimated 11 million immigrants who are here illegally seek citizenship. That pathway to citizenship would come only after years and after back taxes and fines were paid.

But the House has yet to take up the measure, with Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, saying the House would not be rushed into a vote but would take its own “step-by-step, commonsense approach” to reform.

House Republicans released a six-point plan in February that reflected many elements in the Senate bill, but excluded a special pathway to citizenship. Boehner said soon after, however, that immigration reform was not likely to happen this year.

Democrats said they will try to force his hand.

“It’s been 273 days since our colleagues in the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.

Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said “the Republican leadership here at the House has done nothing” to vote on an immigration bill.

So Democrats filed the discharge petition, which needs signatures from a majority of the House – at least 218 lawmakers – to force a vote. They said 34 GOP House members are ready to sign the petition.

“We’ve got the votes, we’ve got the law,” said Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla. “This is not a perfect bill, but it’s a bill we’ve crafted using all the work that’s been put in together.”

Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, said it is rare for a discharge petition to get enough supporters and he does not think this petition will survive in the House. But Pastor, who said he plans to sign the petition, said it is important to send the message.

“It’s to show the public that the Democrats support immigration reform and that the Republicans are stalling it,” Pastor said. “For right now, it’s probably more for messaging than it is for political reality.”

Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff and Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix also plan to sign the petition, aides said Wednesday. Calls to other members of the Arizona delegation were not immediately returned.

The petition comes a day after the Congressional Budget Office reported that savings from immigration reform could total $900 billion over 20 years. That is roughly the same amount the CBO said last summer would be saved by the Senate bill.

House leaders were not immediately available Wednesday to comment on the petition. But President Barack Obama applauded House Democrats’ determination “to give immigration reform the yes-or-no vote it deserves.”

Obama said in a statement Wednesday that a majority of Americans want Congress to act on immigration reform.

“The only thing standing in the way is the unwillingness of Republicans in Congress to catch up with the rest of the country,” he said.

Mayer echoed the president. He called on House members to sign the petition to force a vote that could change an “unjust immigration system” that ignores the nation’s “moral obligation to uphold the unity of families.”