A key proponent of comprehensive immigration reform on Friday said the issue’s death has been announced so many times that no one should take heed.
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said the conversation about reform, which proponents hope to pass before the end of 2013, continues among Democrats. But while the congressman believes the work being done and the movement taking place will bear fruit, he said success depends on Republicans’ willingness to act.
“The speaker controls the [legislative] calendar, but he doesn’t control the movement for immigration reform,” Gutierrez said during a tele-briefing hosted by the advocacy group America’s Voice. “We control that movement. ... This is a fight that will continue. They didn’t start our struggle or our fight. So they can’t call the end of it. We determine when it’s done.”
But some top Republicans have already issued a death certificate for immigration. With approximately 14 days left on the legislative calendar this year, they say there isn’t enough time to tackle an issue as large as immigration reform.
House Republicans have been seen as stalling on immigration reform for months now, since the Senate passed its 2013 immigration reform bill in June. That bill would give the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country a 13-year pathway to citizenship and also contains funds for improvements to border security (manpower, fencing and technology).
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However, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, quickly warned Democrats that the bill wouldn’t advance for a floor vote without support from the “majority of the majority.” Republicans, instead, opted to pass piecemeal bills to boost border security and enforcement -- both internal and in the workplace.
Boehner technically signed the death certificate for the 2013 immigration reform bill earlier this week, when he said he won’t allow House-passed reform bills to conference with the Senate bill.
“We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” Boehner said, as reported by NBC News.
Those words represent the political stance the extreme conservatives were seeking, due to the fact that many on the far right feared that a conference between the House and Senate could have resulted in a bill that included a path to citizenship. Some Republicans have balked at the idea of citizenship for undocumented immigrants who broke the law. They call it “amnesty.” But there are others in the GOP who said they were considering possible legal status for undocumented immigrants but don’t know as yet what it would look like.
“In the end we will all recognize that the only way to get comprehensive immigration reform in the House is a bipartisan approach,” Gutierrez said.
For immigrants, both undocumented and legal, the issue of reform is deeply personal; many legal immigrants have a family member or friend who could face deportation.
That’s what drove Jennifer Martinez, 16, of Washington, to interrupt Boehner’s breakfast on Wednesday, in an effort to appeal to the speaker’s emotions to use his power to advance the issue for a vote.
Martinez is the child of undocumented immigrants. She told participants in the tele-briefing that there was always a fear of her family being separated.
“As a daughter of undocumented parents, that’s always been my reality -- deportation, separation,” she said. “You think about these things as the offspring of undocumented people. It’s impossible not to think about it.”
Martinez said it was extremely disheartening to find that after speaking with Boehner on Wednesday, later that day he announced he would not put the bill on the floor.
“You come all this way to approach someone; you are counting on their emotion, their humanity, their morals,” she said. “It was disappointing because there’s this notion that the millions of DREAMers can wait, and they shouldn’t have to. They’ve waited over a decade for this."
Martinez added the issue isn’t purely a political one, but rather a matter of human lives.
“A child being separated from its parent is wrong,” she said. “Not putting comprehensive immigration to a vote is wrong. ... Human lives are more important than dollar signs or [enforcing] our borders.”
Gutierrez commended Martinez on her efforts and said more personal stories and additional committed diplomacy are needed to continue making the point.