WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden gave an impassioned defense of comprehensive immigration reform -- and the undocumented immigrants it would help -- during a speech on Thursday, saying it would boost the economy and improve foreign relations.
Speaking at a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event, Biden said undocumented immigrants should be given the chance to become citizens and contribute to the country.
"These people are just waiting, waiting for a chance to be able to contribute fully," he said. "And by that standard, 11 million undocumented aliens are already Americans, in my view. They just want a decent life for their kids and a chance to contribute to a free society, a chance to put down roots and help build the next great American century. I really believe that. That's what they're fighting for."
Biden's speech came as House Democrats attempt to reignite reform efforts that have been stonewalled in the lower chamber since the Senate passed its comprehensive immigration bill last year. On Wednesday, they launched a longshot maneuver called a discharge petition to try and force a vote on their version of the bill, though House Republican leadership has said it won't get a vote.
The White House was supportive of that move, and Biden's speech on Thursday reiterated the administration's backing of the Senate-passed bill upon which the House Democrats' legislation is based. Biden specifically cited its economic benefits. The Congressional Budget Office estimated last year that the bill would reduce the deficit by $685 billion over the next 20 years.
"The single most important thing we can do for our economy, for America's future, is to pass immigration reform now," Biden said. "It's the single most important thing we can do. I've heard for too damn long about how this was going to bankrupt us, that Social Security was going to take a nose dive and so on. ... Well guess what, it's a game changer financially for the country."
Biden urged House Speaker John Boehner to let members vote on an immigration bill, a plea House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) made as well, earlier in the event. They noted that reform must be passed this year in order to be combined with the Senate bill during the current Congress, making the issue more urgent than ever.
"It is more important to pass comprehensive immigration reform, to me and to my caucus, than to win the election in November," Pelosi said.
She said she wants to work with Republicans, but laid down one line: she said she would not accept a bill that bans undocumented immigrants from ever attaining citizenship.
"I want this bill desperately, I'm willing to make almost every compromise possible," she said. "But we cannot compromise on a path to citizenship."