Congress only has about four months to pass
comprehensive immigration reform, but its prospects look good, a key advocate
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., is a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" in the House of Representatives that has been working on a reform package since November's elections. He was in San Antonio for an immigration forum with Rep. Pete Gallego, a newly elected Texas Democrat from Alpine.
President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party did better than expected in the Nov. 6 election and Hispanic voters were given a lot of credit for their success. In the wake of the election, both parties expressed renewed interest in passing a reform bill.
It appears that reform faces a rougher road in the Republican-controlled House than in a Democratic-controlled Senate, which already is considering a bill that provides a path to citizenship and for worker visas of many of the 11 million already here without proper documentation.
Gutierrez's team in the House so far has kept the details of its bill under wraps, but Gutierrez and Gallego said it must have many of the same features that are in the Senate bill.
Even before details of the bill have been released, some Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have said they want to consider its provisions one at a time. Critics say that's a formula to kill parts of the bill the members don't like and to keep the parts they do.
Gutierrez said the idea
is a non-starter. It's important to make reform comprehensive so that all sides see their concerns addressed, he said.
"There are certain things that are rudimentary," Gutierrez said.
Among them are keeping intact protections of "dreamers" -- non-citizens who were brought to the states as children; a way to become citizens; and achieving a secure border.
Richard Perez, president of the San Antonio Greater Chamber of Commerce, said that bringing undocumented workers out of the
shadows makes business sense.
"When you're hiding, when you're afraid to let people know who you are, you're not productive," he said.
Gallego represents a district that includes 800 miles of Mexican border and is larger than 29 states. Gutierrez said that Gallego made him familiar with many immigration-related issues that are important to the border.
Among them were the special needs West Texas farmers and ranchers have for migrant labor, Gallego said.
Farmers have difficulty finding people willing to harvest their crops, Gallego said. Referring to sweltering heat in Presidio, Gallego said, "You don't see people standing in line to pick onions in 125-degree heat," he said.
Gallego helped convince his colleagues that special provisions had to be made for agricultural workers, Gutierrez said.
He also has convinced them to make provisions for soldiers whose spouses are not citizens. Under present law, if a soldier is killed in combat, his or her non-citizen spouse can be deported.
Gallego, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, advised the House Gang of Eight to change that.
Gutierrez said it's key to pass a bill now because President Obama has only a short time before he becomes a lame duck and Congress will be distracted by midterm elections next year. That means a bill has to pass before Congress recesses in August, he said.
"There's a sense that we need to reach agreement," Gutierrez said. "I am not worried."
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