Eighty immigrants from nearly 50 countries became U.S. citizens at the New York Historical Society last Friday.
What made this naturalization ceremony different was that a large congressional delegation visiting the city was participating. For Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida it was a chance to reaffirm the party’s appreciation of immigrants.
“What a privilege it is for us, what an honor it is for us to be able to call you our fellow Americans,” Diaz-Balart said in a speech
But after the ceremony, turning to the topic of immigration reform, the Congressman said he didn’t want to commit to a timeline.
“As far as when that’s going happen, when we’re ready, when we can get the votes, when we know it’s right,” he said.
Democratic Congressman Joseph Crowley, who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, said the right time is now.
“Republicans control the House,” Crowley said. “The ball is in their court. They have an opportunity to show whether or not they can actually act in the interest of the country in the next few weeks.”
And that’s a major sticking point in this debate: who is looking out for the interests of the country. Chris Collins, who represents Western New York, told YNN, an upstate TV channel that those who entered the US illegally you should not be rewarded.
“I think a lot of us agree that path to citizenship for those adults who broke the law coming in this country is a non starter,” he said.
After the Senate passed an immigration bill with the support of all Democrats and 14 Republicans, the House leadership declared that bill deeply flawed and decided to create their own version. The thorniest issue is a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.
The Republican Party is split on this issue. Some House Republicans support it, but many others, like Collins, don’t. Coming from a district in upstate NY where only 3 percent of residents are Hispanic, it’s not likely to lead to complaints from his constituents. But for others, like Michael Grimm, the calculation is different.
On a recent day, a dozen young immigration advocates, chanting in support of immigration reform, were collecting signatures at the Staten Island Whitehall Terminal. They’re hoping to influence Grimm’s vote, the lone New York City Republican in the House who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn.
A few feet away, three men also collected signatures, urging Grimm not to support immigration reform.
"What do you think about amnesty for 30 million illegal aliens?” one asked, stopping passers-by. “You think that’s fair? They broke the laws; they compete with you for jobs.”
Congressman Grimm recently told reporters that citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally is "the ultimate goal." His colleague, Peter King, who represents Long Island, agreed. “We should legalize those who are here,” he said at a community meeting in his district.
King is looking at the demographic shifts in his district: 23 percent of the population is Hispanic. And the numbers of Latinos and Asians turning 18 in 2014 - the year Grimm faces re-election - is greater than the margin he won by in 2012.
But most House Republicans, nearly 85 percent according to Nate Silver, represent districts that are 20 percent or less Hispanic. And to them Speaker John Boehner has made a promise.
“I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have the support of the majority of Republicans,” Boehner said last month.
That means 118 Republicans would have to back a bill. Getting that level of support for a path to citizenship, experts say, is all but impossible. Democrats like Luis Gutierrez, a Congressman from Illinois, consider this approach undemocratic.
“We cannot have a Congress of the United States in which a minority, 117 members of the 435, dictate whether the majority will be heard,” he said.
Gutierrez is completing a comprehensive immigration bill with three other Democrats and three Republicans, which includes a path to citizenship. They plan to introduce it in September. Gutierrez says that bill already has the necessary 218 votes to pass. All he said he needs is for Boehner to allow it to come to the floor for a full vote.