WASHINGTON — Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami, sharply criticized the decision to give up on immigration legislation this year.
In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Diaz-Balart said he had been informed by House of Representatives leadership earlier in the day that legislation he pushed that would have led to a path to citizenship for immigrants already in the United States was dead this year.
His legislation, he said, would have acknowledged that “we are not going to spend tens of billions of dollars to round up and deport millions of undocumented workers who have been here for many years.” His bill would have required those who came to the U.S. illegally to earn legal status.
“It is an efficient and effective approach that is good for the American economy and fair to the people who came here legally,” he said.
But on Thursday, he said, he was informed by the Republican leadership that they have no intention to bring the bill to the House floor in 2014.
“It is disappointing and highly unfortunate,” Diaz-Balart said.
He added it was “highly irresponsible not to deal with the issue.”
“We were sent here by the American people precisely to tackle difficult issues and not to take the easy way out,” he said. “By blocking reform, whether it was when Nancy Pelosi was speaker or now, we are in effect abdicating our duty. Particularly when we have a president that is willing to unilaterally act through executive action, that he himself has said is legally circumspect, will not provide a long-term solution to our immigration system, and I believe could even make it worse.”
Giving up on broad immigration legislation wasn’t a surprise to much of Washington, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said last month that the issue was effectively dead and unlikely to be pursued until after President Barack Obama leaves office. The issue shows the divide in a GOP that is trying to appeal both to Latino voters and business leaders who favor legalization, and to the tea party wing of the party that opposes any mass legalization efforts.
As for the possibility of the bill’s success, Diaz-Balart had been optimistic.
“I feel absolutely confident that we had the support of the majority – the majority – of the House Republican conference, and also a very strong group of Democrats,” he said after delivering his prepared comments in English and Spanish.
Diaz-Balart’s comments brought a reaction from business interests such as the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, which represents specialty crops such as vegetables, citrus, tropical fruits, berries and sugar cane. Like other farm groups, the Maitland, Fla., organization favors revamping the nation’s immigration laws to help provide its growers a stable, legal workforce.
Although the prospects of passing an immigration bill soured in recent weeks, the group – like Diaz-Balart – held out hope. Lisa Lochridge, the group’s director of public affairs, said her organization was “realistic, but hopeful.”
“We didn’t want to let up in our call to Congress because we knew we likely won’t get another chance like this for several years,” she said.
After Diaz-Balart’s press conference, the group issued its own statement, saying it was “extremely disappointed at the refusal of Republican leadership in the House” to consider immigration legislation.
“The labor crisis in agriculture and its effect on our communities and economy will only worsen unless and until Congress steps up and does its job,” the group said.