CHICAGO – Congressman Luis Gutierrez said Saturday supporters of comprehensive immigration reform must make their voices heard as the debate shifts to the Republican-led House of Representatives, where the bill’s prospects are uncertain.
Gutierrez joined fellow Illinois Democrat U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin at a meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Chicago. He said he has been working closely with some Republican congressmen on draft legislation and that he will continue to do so in hopes of picking up more GOP support.
“I believe that in the House of Representatives the Republican majority and the speaker have not grasped the enormity of this petition. They just haven’t,” Gutierrez said. “They don’t understand the breadth and the depth (of) people that want this to get done, and the power that stands behind this movement for comprehensive immigration reform.”
Durbin was part of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that drafted the legislation approved Friday by the Democrat-controlled Senate. The measure would strengthen security along the U.S./Mexico border and provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants unlawfully living in the U.S.
It also includes the DREAM Act, which would make college affordable for people who entered the country illegally. Durbin has pressed that legislation for more than a decade.
On Saturday, he credited young people who came forward to share their personal stories for the measure’s passage.
But House Speaker John Boehner has already said the chamber won’t take up the Senate bill, opting instead to consider its own legislation.
One major sticking point will be the path to citizenship, a key component of the Senate plan.
Supporters say any comprehensive immigration legislation must include a process for immigrants in the country illegally to become citizens. But many conservatives oppose it because they believe it amounts to amnesty for criminals. They also say it’s unfair to immigrants who entered the U.S. legally.
Gutierrez, from Chicago, said Saturday the House legislation he’s working on will also include a path to citizenship.
He said he believes it makes sense for the House to have its own process that reflects the Republican majority. But he said it “must be one in which we’re given a vote.”