By Sarah Ferris - 12/02/14 12:42 PM EST
Immigration reform champion Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) on Tuesday urged undocumented immigrants to take quick advantage of President Obama’s executive actions giving them temporary legal status.
Speaking in both English and Spanish, he urged those eligible for the new program to also get their paperwork ready for legal status.
Gutiérrez appeared with five other Democrats who sit on the House Judiciary Committee, which will consider on Tuesday the legality of Obama’s actions.
The Chicago-area lawmaker slammed Republicans for trying to derail Obama’s plans for immigration reform without presenting other options.
“If you do not like what the president of the United States has done, then it is your responsibility to offer us an alternative other than to demonize and criminalize our immigrant community,” Gutiérrez said to a packed room of immigration activists and the children of undocumented immigrants protected by the DREAM Act, known as DREAMers.
“What unites Republicans is being against anything Barack Obama proposes,” he said, accusing the GOP of using the issue of immigration against Democrats “in order to regain the Senate and in order to regain more House Seats.”
Gutiérrez said he had worked hard with Republican leadership to pass immigration reform, but was repeatedly told, “Just be patient Luis, we’re almost there.” He said Democrats were no longer willing to wait.
The two GOP-led hearings on Tuesday are the first since Obama announced his immigration plans.
Republicans have blasted Obama for the decision, arguing he is going well beyond his constitutional authority with actions that could give legal status to up to 5 million immigrants.
“His decision to take unilateral action on immigration — action he himself said exceeded his authority — makes it harder for the American people and their elected representatives to trust his word on any issue,” Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbying World In House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills MORE (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.
Democrats appearing with Gutiérrez argued Obama acted within the law.
“There’s no serious question at all that the president has the authority to do what he did,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a longtime immigration lawyer, said in defending Obama’s plan.
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) blamed Boehner and Republicans for failing to bring an immigration bill to the floor.
“The ball is in the Republicans’ hands,” he said. “The ball's in [Boehner’s] hands and he doesn’t know what to do with the ball.”