Deb Weinstein | Immigration Reform Hits Milestone

Washington – It was a bilingual event with a common cause: pass immigration reform this year.

Leading the call was Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois), who, speaking in both English and Spanish, gathered immigrant families, members of the community group Casa de Maryland, members of the activist group Campus Progress and fellow lawmakers to announce a milestone: the support of 100 members of Congress for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform ASAP Act.

The act, introduced in December 2009, includes an array of provisions. Among them: a worker verification program, visa reforms and family unity protections to allow parents to stay with their children if the children are natural-born citizens, but the parents themselves are not.

Although the family element was given attention, Gutierrez and his supporters also hammered on three points: the economic contributions of immigrants, that reform would improve national security and, finally, the unwillingness of families to leave.

“They are not leaving on their own, no matter how hard we make it,” Gutierrez said.

Reps. Michael M. Honda (D-California), along with Jared Polis (D-Colorado) were among those who made emotional appeals.

Honda, standing next to a young girl, asked the room if it was right to deny her the American Dream because, although a citizen herself, her parents are not. Polis addressed the fear that comes with uncertain status. “Kids come home not knowing if their parents will be in detention,” he said.

Not all of the support, however, was grounded in empathy. Some of it was grounded in frustration with what many in the room called a “broken system,” as well as frustration with what some considered a lack of forthrightness.

Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-New York), for example, said, “We have to challenge those who oppose us to tell us why,” before adding that Congressmen who do not support immigration reform should not “advertise in Spanish.”

Gutierrez said that, ironically, recent clampdowns on immigrant rights have provided “a new energy” to the immigration reform movement. Of particular importance, Gutierrez said, was the Arizona law that goes into effect this July.

This law will not only require that immigrants carry their documentation papers with them, but will also allow police to detain anyone they suspect may be in the US illegally. Nebraska also contributed to the wave of support for reform, Gutierrez said, when it voted this week to make it illegal to rent to or hire illegal aliens.

The legislators there said no excuse – the economy, job losses – was a legitimate reason to delay reform. Consensus, in particular, was considered a nonissue.

“There is broad consensus around the basic ideals [of this reform],” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York), “This is the time to start legislating.”

“Of course the opposition argues it’s not the right time. It’s past time,” added Barbara Lee (D-California).

Time, however, is an issue. “We know the legislative clock is ticking,” Gutierrez said, referring to the November election cycle that will close out the 111th Congress and bring in the 112th, essentially creating a clean slate for Congress and a need to begin the legislation cycle anew.