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One last immigration reform push before Congress leaves town

With immigration reform off the table in 2013, activists are planning to converge on Washington one last time to pressure lawmakers for action – and assure them they’ll be back next year.

Advocates of a reform bill that want to see a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States have gotten more aggressive in their efforts to convince the House Republican leadership to put a bill to a vote, stopping by their homes, offices and even breakfast spots, uninvited, to visit and pray. They’ve even heckled President Obama, who shares many of their objectives, asking him to unilaterally halt deportations.

On Thursday, they will gather for one last press conference in the U.S. Capitol and a visit with other activists who have been fasting to protest the lack of a vote in the House and have drawn visits from both President Obama and other congressional leaders. The Campaign for Citizenship is pledging that lawmakers will get “a taste of the 2014 campaign” if there is no reform bill put on the floor next year.

The White House has kept up the drumbeat with a series of presidential speeches promoting reform. On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden participated in an online immigration Q&A where he urged House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to bring up an immigration bill that passed the Senate in June.

“Mr. Boehner, who’s a good man, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he will not call up the bill passed overwhelmingly by the Senate,” Biden said. “He is unwilling to let the House speak, he is unwilling to let the House vote.”

“Call up the Senate bill, and this is over,” Biden said, insisting that it would have a sufficient number of votes to pass the House. Mr. Obama has similarly claimed that the House has enough votes to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but he’s also struck a more conciliatory tone lately, saying he would let the House tackle reform in a piecemeal fashion. That’s the only way Boehner has said his chamber would pass new immigration laws.

House Democrats have finally publicly accepted the reality that any legislation won’t make it to the floor until 2014, if at all.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she asked Boehner about immigration on Tuesday, “and he told me, yes, we'll have to wait until next year.”

Meanwhile, Biden defended the administration’s priorities for a bill, such as requiring that it include a way for people in the U.S. illegally to earn citizenship. Right off the bat, a participant during the immigration Q&A asked about the government granting amnesty.

“We’re not granting amnesty. They’re going to have to get in line. They have to get in line in order to earn that citizenship and it’s a long line,” Biden said, adding that there were other requirements, such as learning English, and paying a fine and back taxes.

He shared with another participant that not all of his own ancestors, who left Ireland during the Great Famine, came to the U.S. the right way.

“My great grandparents came to escape the famine, and they didn’t all come legally. And the existence of the system isn’t all truncated like it is now. I’d check your ancestry to make sure they did come in legally if that’s of concern to you,” he advised the woman who asked the question, who said that all of her relatives had come to the U.S. legally.

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