Reps. Gutierrez, Diaz-Balart: No ‘amnesty’ in House immigration plan

Two members of the bipartisan group of lawmakers crafting an immigration reform proposal in the House said that the bill they'll produce will not include "amnesty" for illegal immigrants already in the nation.

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Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) offered the beginnings of an outline to the comprehensive immigration reform package they and a handful of other lawmakers are working on in the House on CNN Sunday and said they hoped to unveil a proposal by year’s end.

"1986 was amnesty. Just basically, show up, get a green card. That is not what we are doing now," said Gutierrez.

He insisted today's reform effort would not take the same tack as immigration reform in the mid-eighties, which provided immediate legal status to millions of immigrants.

The Illinois lawmaker suggested the bill would instead have a system of steps towards legalization, beginning with giving undocumented immigrants Social Security cards and work permits, after which they can apply for green cards and get on a path towards full citizenship. 

Offering those immigrants who came to the United States illegally full citizenship has long been a point of contention among proponents of reform, with critics expressing concerns that providing immediate, full amnesty would overwhelm the immigration system and the economy, as well as reward those who broke the law to come to America.

GOP Rep. Diaz-Balart emphasized the need for border and internal security reform to be included in a final bill.

Some engaged in the reform effort have suggested any bill needs to include a requirement that employers check applicants' information against government records, to ensure their legality. Immigrant-rights advocates have pushed back against this effort, charging that it would drive illegal workers and employers underground.

But Gutierrez suggested an openness to a verification requirement in a final bill. He has long been an opponent of making one of the most prominent verification systems, known as E-Verify, mandatory.

"In America, a job that is created in America should go to an American person that is born here," he said, adding that "a verification system," beyond just a Social Security card, is needed to ensure those who are working in the U.S. are eligible to work here.

Both Gutierrez and Diaz-Balart agreed that any bill passed would need bipartisan support, and that all planks of the reform effort are "tied together," an affirmation that a comprehensive, rather than piecemeal, bill will come out of their negotiations.

But neither would give a timeline on when the bill would be released.

"It's gotta be done this year, but our concern is to get it done well, not quickly," Diaz-Balart said.

Though they admitted that the bill produced by the House is likely to be vastly different from that passed by the Senate, Diaz-Balart expressed optimism that the two sides would come together.

"The conference committee is going to be difficult, but so far it looks like we're at least on the same planet, and that's a step in the right direction," he said.