The group met, on and off, in almost complete secrecy for nearly four years. It lost members to political disagreements, and to re-election battles. After the November elections, it regrouped and redoubled its efforts.
Soon, the bipartisan group of about eight House members hopes to unveil its own immigration legislation, adding a voice to a growing swell of politicians — a bipartisan group in the Senate, as well as President Barack Obama — who say they are serious about overhauling the nation’s immigration system by the end of the year.
“For the last six or seven years, there had been no one to partner with, but since Nov. 6 there’s been a lot of new dance partners, and that’s good," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a member of the group. “The table is filling up with people, and people are talking and they’re having conversations."
Aides and members would not confirm on the record the group’s exact composition, but they said it would have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. In addition to Gutierrez, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ immigration task force, those involved in the discussions, aides said, include Rep. Xavier Becerra and Zoe Lofgren, both California Democrats; John Yarmuth, D-Ky.; Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson, both Texas Republicans; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.; and Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing on the immigration issue. The bipartisan group of House members hopes to release legislation of its own, perhaps accompanied by its own set of principles, by Feb. 12, the day Obama delivers the State of the Union address.
In a town where leaks are the currency of doing business, those with knowledge of the group said the legislators’ tight-lipped discipline was remarkable — and necessary.
Immigration is a politically fraught issue, especially in the House, and many of the members wanted the safety of being able to present controversial ideas or walk away without details appearing in the news media. House Republicans involved with the group did not want to be associated with a topic they saw as potentially toxic, particularly with members of their party’s more conservative wing.