Reform advocate Rep. Gutierrez says immigration bill on target for passage

Congress's leading advocate for immigration reform on Monday welcomed Washington's newfound appetite to tackle the thorny issue this year, but he warned of a tough fight ahead.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez cheered the “momentum” created by President Obama and a bipartisan group of senators, who will unveil a sweeping immigration reform proposal Monday. But the Illinois Democrat, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who has fought for immigration reform for more than a decade to no avail, cautioned that the devil is in the details.

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“We are on track to pass a bipartisan bill this year that legalizes millions of immigrants, keeps families together, strengthens our country, and eventually allows immigrants to apply for citizenship. All of the pieces are falling into place,” Gutierrez, the chairman of the Hispanic Caucus's immigration task force, said in a statement.

“We have not signed on the dotted line, and some important details are yet to be resolved, but what we have now is momentum,” he added. “Momentum, plus encouragement from the American people, the president, and immigrant and Latino communities, will get an immigration bill across the finish line this year.”

Behind Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), a bipartisan group of upper-chamber lawmakers is scheduled Monday to unveil a sweeping immigration reform package that will combine tougher border-enforcement measures favored by Republicans with Democrats' demand for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Obama is expected to float a similar package on Tuesday in Nevada.

Gutierrez and other Hispanic leaders met with Obama on Friday to discuss immigration reform. During that meeting, Gutierrez said, Obama told the lawmakers that immigration reform is his No. 1 priority this year.

“Combine that with a serious bipartisan framework in the Senate and very constructive conversations with my House colleagues in both parties and I am confident we are poised for action and not just more talk on immigration reform,” Gutierrez said Monday.

It won't be easy. House Republicans are already pushing back hard against the Senate blueprint over the provision that creates a pathway to citizenship. Conservatives like Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) say such a move constitutes “amnesty” for people who broke the law the moment they crossed the border.

Gutierrez on Monday was undeterred.

“The most important thing right now is to keep the various efforts moving forward and not to draw lines in the sand,” he said. “Every proposal can be amended at some point, and so I am optimistic that the [Congressional Hispanic Caucus] will have a significant input on any final proposal.”