"Our nation cannot afford to wait any longer for this House to take up immigration reform," Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), the lead sponsor of the reform bill, said at a press conference. "We have heard too many excuses and too much empty rhetoric from Speaker Boehner. It’s time for the House to vote."
The move Democrats began Wednesday, called a discharge petition, will require them to win support and signatures from 218 members -- a majority of the House -- in order to make the chamber vote on the bill, introduced by Democrats last year and supported by a majority of the caucus. Even if they don't gain the signatures necessary -- and it looks likely that they won't -- they argue the effort could help to put more pressure on the GOP to restart an immigration effort that has stalled in the House.
Despite putting out a set of principles on immigration reform in January, the House GOP has yet to move forward with any bills on the issue. A Republican aide predicted that the discharge petition won't likely lead to a vote.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) herself said earlier this month that they don't expect to get 218 signatures. Even the three GOP members who support the bill have said they oppose the discharge petition.
Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), noted on Wednesday that Pelosi had said they wouldn't get the signatures needed. "We agree with Rep. Pelosi," he said in an email.
Democrats are focusing on a comprehensive immigration reform bill based on two pieces of legislation: the bill that passed the Senate last June, and another approved by the House Homeland Security Committee.
Democrats say the bill could pass if it went for a vote.
"We know the votes exist now to pass comprehensive immigration reform in this House," Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said at the Wednesday press conference. "So it is time for us to do it."
Advocates quickly jumped on the discharge petition and promised to pressure Republican members to get on board. Rocio Saenz, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, said in a statement that the petition will "tell us exactly what side of the issue each member is on."
"Are they with the extremists in their caucus who want to block immigration reform at all costs, or are they with the millions of families who are suffering under our broken system?" Saenz said. "The real question is whether pro-reform Republicans can convince their leadership to act, and if they won't sign this petition, then what are they proposing to do? HR 15 deserves a vote and those who fail to sign the discharge petition will find themselves on the wrong side of history."
In a statement later Wednesday, President Barack Obama praised Democrats for launching the discharge petition.
"Republicans in the House have refused to allow meaningful immigration reform legislation to even come up for a vote," he said. "That’s why, today, I applaud the efforts of Democrats in the House to give immigration reform the yes-or-no vote it deserves. ... The only thing standing in the way is the unwillingness of Republicans in Congress to catch up with the rest of the country. And I want to thank the leaders in Congress who are doing their part to move us forward."