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Congressional Mosaic Demands Immigration Reform ‘ASAP’

New America Media, News Report, Khalil Abdullah Posted: Dec 16, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and co-sponsors of the newest legislative initiative on immigration reform entered the room in the Rayburn House Office Building, they were greeted by enthusiastic supporters. Shouts of “si se pueda” blended with simultaneous exhortations of its English equivalent, “yes we can” issued from a standing room only crowd that included a contingent of Latino school children with red and white T-shirts emblazoned with “Future Voter.”

Gutierrez said the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 or, in shorthand, CIR-ASAP, represents “the final push for comprehensive immigration reform.” The bill had 87 sponsors when the panel of House lawmakers walked in the room, but had gained new sponsors before the afternoon press conference concluded. Supporters need 218 votes in the House to reach a majority of the body’s 235 members. “We’re getting the confidence from the mosaic you see here,” said Gutierrez in answer to whether his sponsorship goals were achievable.

Gutierrez said though House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has not made explicit remarks about the CIR-ASAP, “she has been a wonderful consistent ally.” Expectations are that the Senate will not only introduce a companion bill but take up the issue in February or March. As for support from the executive branch, Gutierrez said, “I believe President Barack Obama is a man of his word,” citing, as did other speakers, Obama’s campaign pledge to assure passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

CIR-ASAP combines elements from previous legislative efforts, including the DREAM Act of 2009, which enables immigrant children who graduate from high school to attain legal residency. CIR-ASAP, however, shortens the DREAM Act’s time requirement from six to three years and removes the previous fine as well. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” Gutierrez stated, adding that his goal is to “speed them to American citizenship.”

Speakers at the over hour-long event, however, spent little time dwelling on the particulars of CIR-ASAP, but rather focused on the moral imperative facing America. Gutierrez received plaudits from Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian and Pacific Caucus, who took the lead in drafting the language in the bill that dealt with family reunification. “No system in this country should keep loved ones apart,” said Honda. Rep. Judy Chu, who spoke of her grandfather’s experiences in America as a Chinese immigrant during the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act, lauded Gutierrez “for having the vision and the perseverance to take this all the way.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, the current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who was joined by several CBC members, spoke of the immigrant experience of her ancestors who left Jamaica and learned Spanish while working on the construction of the Panama Canal before arriving in the United States.

Among the Congressional contingent that flanked Gutierrez stood Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., who acknowledged that critics of immigration reform have legitimate concerns, including national and border security. “I had a cousin who was killed in 9/11,” said Crowley, who has no qualms championing CIR-ASAP. He spoke of his Irish forebears and to the immigrant experience generally, of the courage it takes to come to a new country in an effort “to forge a new life.”

“But don’t dismiss for a moment the issue of dignity, and the dignity of humankind,” Crowley said of the legislative intent. He was more than eloquently echoed by Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., chair of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, who said, “I have never been so proud in my 18 years in Congress.” By introducing the bill, Velázquez said sponsors were “laying down a marker in 2009” with the determination to get the bill through in the upcoming year. “There’s no wrong or right time,” she chided, “this is moral obligation.”

Gutierrez said the reason the legislation is moving forward is ultimately due to the immigrant community itself. Even when no one stepped forward to negotiate, he said, “we sat patiently at the table.” Citing Biblical scripture about turning the other cheek, Gutierrez said, “Immigrants have turned so many cheeks our heads our spinning.” He said the bill would be introduced in the name of Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, who was present. Elected to his seat in 1982, Ortiz is the dean of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus.

Though still yielding to the reality of political compromise before CIR-ASAP becomes law, of the legislation’s basic principles Gutierrez asserted: “We will not surrender them for one minute.”

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