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Vela, Gonzalez sign petition to move immigration bills to U.S. House floor

June 5, 2018 GMT

WASHINGTON – Thanks to the support of two Texas Democrats, a bipartisan coalition of members of the U.S. House is on the cusp of bypassing House Speaker Paul Ryan and moving major immigration bills to the chamber’s floor.

On Tuesday morning, two Democrats who represent the Texas border – U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen and Filemon Vela of – announced they would sign onto an arcane legislative petition that was originally spearheaded by another border member, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican from Helotes.

Last month, Hurd and a handful of other House Republicans, frustrated by the lack of movement on immigration, initiatied an obscure legislative tactic called a discharge petition to bypass their chamber’s committees and House GOP leadership and force a series of votes on several bills that address several immigration issues including addressing the legal status of "Dreamers" — young undocumented residents who came to the country as minors and have been granted a reprieve from deportation and a two-year work permit under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

The discharge petition quickly gained dozens of backers, including most House Democrats. Three Texas Democrats representing the border – Gonzalez, Vela and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo – all withheld their support from the petition, citing concerns that it could lead to legislatiion passing that would clear the way for the constuction of a border wall. Cuellar has not changed his position.

With Vela and Gonzalez signing on, the petition’s tally grows to 215 names, just three short of the 218 needed in order to force votes on the U.S. House floor. Hurd is the only Texas Republican to sign on.

“By signing this discharge petition, I do so with the intent of giving 800,000 young people – young Americans – peace of mind and the ability to remain in the only country they call home,” said Gonzalez. “Let me be clear, I will not accept a DACA fix that includes funding for a border wall. It’s unfortunate that we are at this nexus, but the ball is now in the Republicans’ court. And as such, I ask them: ‘What will be your next move?’”

"In consultation with dreamers and their parents, clergy and Bishop Flores in my district, I have decided to sign the discharge petition so that dreamers can get the vote they are asking for,” Vela concurred. “I will vote for a clean Dream act but not for any measure that includes border wall funding. Republican moderates claim they have the votes to move their discharge petition forward. ... Let’s see.”

The initial group pushing for the the petition was made up of just Republican – mostly members like Hurd who are from diverse districts and are in tough re-election battles; and other Republicans who are retiring. In the following weeks, most members of the Democratic caucus followed suit and signed the petition, allowing the coalition to close in on a majority of the chamber.

Capitol Hill is bracing for a conservative backlash to the tactic. Immigration is the most contentious issue within the GOP conference and a floor vote on these measures – which include a hardline approach to Democratic-favored policies – is sure to pit the conservative wing of the House Republican conference, known as the Freedom Caucus, against members like Hurd. That’s put the chamber’s Republican leadership in the crosshairs of a deeply divided conference. GOP members are scheduled to meet Thursday morning to address the issue.