By Mike Lillis - 01/04/13 09:37 PM EST
Rep. Luis Gutierrez has joined the House Judiciary Committee in the 113th Congress to tackle his signature issue: immigration reform.
The Illinois Democrat will take a temporary leave from his spot on the Financial Services panel in the hopes of helping Democrats enact the type of comprehensive immigration reforms that have eluded Congress for years.
"Giving up 20-plus years of seniority on Financial Services, even temporarily, is not easy, but passing comprehensive immigration reform is my passion and my commitment to my constituents and immigrants all across our country," Gutierrez said Friday in a statement announcing the change.
"All of the road signs are pointed in the right direction, and I felt I must be on the Judiciary Committee during this Congress to help the others on the Committee get immigration reform to the finish line," he said.
The issue of immigration reform is usually a third rail in election-year politics, but 2012 was an exception after Obama forced the issue to the fore by launching a new program granting temporary legal status to qualified illegal immigrants.
The move, which put GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney on the defensive, paid dividends at the polls in November, when roughly 70 percent of Hispanic voters chose Obama.
The lopsided numbers have caused even staunch opponents of illegal immigration to concede that the GOP has to embrace some form of reform or risk losing national elections for years to come.
"I’m confident that the president, myself [and] others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said just after the elections.
An emerging sticking point seems to be that Obama, Gutierrez and the Democrats want to enact comprehensive reform, while the Republicans — notably Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who is considered a strong possibility for the GOP in the 2016 presidential race — prefer a piecemeal approach.
Obama this week said the issue remains on his radar.
"I've said that fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority [and] I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done," Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press" program Sunday. "I think we have talked about it long enough. We know how we can fix it. We can do it in a comprehensive way that the American people support. That's something we should get done."