The United States is a proud nation of immigrants. Like the generations who came before, the most recent newcomers want what all Americans want: to raise strong families, build safe communities, practice their faith in freedom and seek new and better opportunities for their children.
Residents of the 4th Congressional district are closely connected to this proud and historic immigrant tradition. Like their predecessors, today's immigrants work in the toughest jobs for the least amount of pay, contribute to the tax base, open small businesses that create jobs, serve in the U.S. military and add to the unique diversity of America through their social and cultural contributions. It is no wonder that our community considers it a top priority to have an immigration system in place that is fair, preserves family unity, protects our neighborhoods and honors immigrants' significant contributions to our nation.
I am proud to serve as the Chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and I have previously also served on the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and as the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Democratic Caucus.
We need a 21st century immigration system to regulate a 21st century labor force. We need to have a system of legal immigration that employers and immigrants actually use so that we have control over who comes and who is here. We ought to have an immigration system that honors families and keeps them together. People should come to this country with a visa, not a smuggler and we should have a system that allows them to do so within reasonable limits tied to our economic and societal needs and that is adjusted over time. We don't have that now.
We also need to get those people already here into the system and on the books if they are crime free and play by the rules. Immigrants would love to earn legal status if we gave them a way to get right with the law and it is in everyone's interest to reestablish the rule of law. And we need enforcement that makes sure that everyone -- employers, citizens, immigrants, and law enforcement -- are playing by a clear set of rules that are evenly enforced. That is what comprehensive immigration reform is all about.
112TH CONGRESS (2011-2012)
Preventing the Separation of Families
Every day my offices in Chicago and Washington receive calls and messages from people whose families are being ripped apart because of our deportation policies. We are now deporting people at a faster rate than at any time in our modern history, more than 1,100 people per day. During the Spring and Summer of 2011, I embarked on my second national tour to participate in immigration town hall events and community meetings to hear the stories of DREAM Act-eligible students and families who have been torn apart by our flawed immigration system. Across the country, the message was clear: families of all kinds were struggling and being separated from their loved ones. In response, my colleagues in Congress and I have called on the President to use his executive authority under current immigration law to grant administrative relief to family members of U.S. citizens, DREAM-eligible young people, and others with deep roots in the United States who are assets, not threats, to their communities.
Morton Memo (Administrative Relief)
On August 18, 2011 the Obama Administration announced a policy to prioritize how scarce resources would be used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and set immigration enforcement priorities. DHS will prioritize the deportation of serious criminals and other "High Priority Cases" individuals while using a set of criteria to evaluate "Low Priority Cases" individuals who are crime free and have deep roots in their communities and administratively close some of those cases or choose not to pursue prosecution in the first place. This will allow the Administration to focus their resources on those individuals who are a higher priority for removal efforts, while also allowing DHS to consider factors like whether an immediate family member is in the U.S. military, is a veteran, or is a U.S. citizen, whether an individual is very old, very young or is a student, and the length of time an individual has been in this country, among many other factors.
While the President and the Administration are taking steps to rationalize and prioritize our enforcement efforts on high priority removals and individuals who represent a threat to our communities, Republicans in the House are focused on politically motivated efforts to limit the powers of President Obama. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith introduced H.R. 2497, the Hinder the Administration's Legalization Temptation (HALT) Act, which would take away the power of the President to set immigration enforcement priorities, but only through the next presidential inauguration. These are the same powers of discretion that Chairman Smith said were "well established" in a letter to Secretary Janet Reno in 1999 where he asked her to exercise the same powers he now wants to take away from President Obama. A companion bill to the House Halt Act was introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) in the Senate (S. 1380).
I remain committed to defeating mean-spirited and misguided legislation and have worked with my colleagues to stand for immigration policies that will work and that prioritize families, respond to our economic needs, and protect our communities.
111th Congress (2009-2010)
In 2001, I authored the Immigrant Children's Educational Advantage and Dropout Prevention Act (H.R. 1582) to provide legal status to minors who had lived in the U.S. for at least five years and who are students. Later versions of this legislation to legalize young undocumented immigrants came to be known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. A version of the DREAM Act passed the Senate in 2006 (as part of the McCain-Kennedy comprehensive immigration reform package that I co-authored).
After many years of fighting for DREAMers, in December 2010 we had an opportunity to bring the DREAM Act to a vote in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. With the assistance of DREAMers and a coalition of supportive Members of Congress, I worked to secure the necessary support for a version of the DREAM Act in the House of Representatives. The bill, H.R. 5281, passed the House with bipartisan support on December 8, 2010 by a 216-198 vote. It was the first significant immigration bill to pass the House of Representatives since the infamous H.R.4437 -- the notoriously anti-immigrant "Sensenbrenner Bill" in 2005 that set off massive national demonstrations. The informal "Whip Team" I formed among Members of the Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Asian-Pacific Caucus, Progressive Caucus and other pro-immigrant Democrats were instrumental in working with our Leadership to get the House bill passed.
I also worked closely with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to prepare the bill for a vote in the Senate the following week. While the bill ultimately failed to receive the votes to overcome a filibuster, the DREAM Act received the support of a majority of the U.S. Senate -- 55-41. Only in the Senate would a vote of 55-41 not be enough for victory, but rules in that body generally require 60 votes to cut off an endless debate known as a filibuster.
While I was disappointed that the bill was not signed into law, I continued to push for President Obama to provide a solution for hardworking and bright DREAM Act students through administrative relief.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform
On December 15, 2009, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus joined almost 100 Members of Congress to introduce H.R. 4321, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP Act). The bill became the centerpiece democratic comprehensive immigration reform bill. It was based on previous bills I had co-authored with Sen. Ted Kennedy and bipartisan bills I had co-authored with Sen.. Kennedy and Arizona Republicans Sen. John McCain, Rep. Jeff Flake, and Rep. Jim Kolbe in previous Congresses dating back to 2004.
In 2009, the bill was endorsed by a diverse coalition of Members and organizations including labor and religious leaders, and received the backing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus and was named in honor of the senior Member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the time, Rep. Solomon Ortiz of Texas..
Families are needlessly separated under the current immigration system and children are too often raised far from one or both parents. Families wait years -- and in many cases decades -- for loved ones to receive a visa to join them in the United States. The CIR ASAP bill would rectify this by reducing the backlog in family-based visas and ensuring that the children and spouses of legal immigrants, once vetted by the Department of Homeland Security, are immediately eligible to join their parent or spouse in the U.S.
CIR ASAP also addresses the plight of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States on the margins of society. My bill creates a straight-forward program that requires undocumented immigrants to register with the U.S. government, pass a background check, pay a $500 fine, pay taxes, and learn English and U.S. civics in order to earn legal status that places them on the path to permanent residence and eventual citizenship and full integration.
For individuals in immigration detention, the bill establishes basic standards that include access to medical care, telephones, prevention of multiple transfers, and protections for vulnerable populations such as women, children, families, the disabled, asylum seekers, and the mentally ill.
The CIR ASAP bill would strengthen the economy and level the playing field for all U.S. workers. When employers hire undocumented workers and knowingly circumvent fair wage and safe workplace standards, all workers suffer. By mandating the electronic employment verification of employees and reforming the process by which visa holders enter the country to work, the CIR ASAP bill would ensure that employers hire legal workers and abide by labor standards. A new Commission on Labor Markets and Immigration will establish employment-based immigration policies that promote America's economic growth and competitiveness while minimizing job displacement, wage depression, and unauthorized employment in the United States. Those that come to the United States to fill legitimate gaps in our workforce will have improved and timely access to green cards, which will facilitate their integration into the mainstream and better protect their rights in the workplace, which will improve conditions for all workers.
My bill would also strengthen border security by channeling traffic through regulated ports of entry and strengthening security at the border itself. The CIR ASAP Act secures ports of entry to combat violent criminal activity, human trafficking, and weapons smuggling. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a review of personnel resources and fill any gaps that are identified over a 5-year period. In addition to increased technology, manpower, and resources to combat drug, arms, and human smuggling, the bill includes provisions to enhance international collaboration with border nations.
While I fight for a comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system, I am committed to defeating attempts to exploit the issue for political gain by others who propose legislation that represent the "same old same old" of failed policies of the past.
I have consistently opposed short sighted initiatives, such as H.R. 4437 (the "Sensenbrenner bill") from 2005, because a border wall, criminalization of the undocumented, and mass deportations are expensive, unworkable and inhumane and will do nothing to secure our homeland, end unauthorized migration, or stop the exploitation of U.S. and immigrant workers and their families. Effective and long-lasting reform that will fix our broken immigration system requires a comprehensive overhaul of our nation's immigration laws.
As your Representative in Congress, I have advocated tirelessly for immigrants and their families and I will proudly continue to do so. I will not rest until our immigration policies are in line with our shared American values of hard work, secure families, a strong economy and love of democracy
History of Congressman Gutierrez's work on immigration and related issues
First Immigration-Related Bill: Gutierrez first introduced immigrant-related legislation in 1993 - Defense and extension of State Legalization Impact Assistance Grants (SLIAG) related to those immigrants legalized in 1986's IRCA law.
Citizenship: Soon after taking office in 1993, Gutierrez created citizenship workshops in Congressional District 4 to aid constituents in navigating the citizenship process. As of 2010, more than 50,000 constituents had received assistance from the Congressman in working to make the transition from legal permanent resident to citizen of the United States. Congressman Gutierrez's office was the first Congressional office to receive recognition as a Community-Based Organization (CBO) which marked a historic departure and unique approach to constituent services and made the Congressman's office the first truly one-stop service center for residents of his district.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform: In 2004 (108th Congress), Gutierrez introduced his fist comprehensive immigration reform bill with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introducing the companion bill in the Senate. It combined legal immigration, legalization for undocumented immigrants and enforcement at the border and in the workplace, hence its label, "comprehensive." It also included provisions incorporating other stand-alone bills like the DREAM Act and AgJOBS. It was known as the SOLVE Act, the Safe, Orderly, Legal Visas and Enforcement Act.
In 2005 (109th Congress), Gutierrez joined Sen. Kennedy and three Arizona Republicans, Sen. John McCain, Rep. Jeff Flake, and Rep. Jim Kolbe, to introduce bipartisan and bi-cameral comprehensive immigration reform legislation based on the Congressman's previous bill and previous bills by Senator Kennedy and by the Republican co-authors. It was known as the Secure America Act or the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005. A version of the bill, known as McCain-Kennedy in the Senate, passed the Senate in June 2006, but GOP House Leadership never named a conference committee and the legislation died before being signed into law.
In 2007 (110th Congress), Gutierrez again teamed with Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill based on the previous versions. Despite bipartisan authorship and co-sponsorship, the GOP House Leadership did not bring the bill up for a vote on the floor.
In 2009 (111th Congress), Gutierrez drafted and introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP), based on the previous versions (see articles above). Lacking Republican co-authors in the hyper-partisan 111th Congress, the bill was introduced by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and named for the senior Member of the Caucus, Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (D-TX). [Related press articles: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1209/30643.html; http://www.opencongress.org/articles/view/1417-House-Dems-Introduce-Comprehensive-Immigration-Reform-Legislation; http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Congressman-son-of-migrants-the-face-of-reform-1694285.php]
In addition to those bills and campaigns above, Gutierrez was the leader of several significant but smaller immigration-related efforts, including:
- Successfully leading an effort in 1997 to reverse anti-immigrant provisions of welfare reform measures passed in the previous Congress. H.R. 1015, the Immigrant Fairness Act, laid the groundwork for benefits restoration for legal immigrants and children related to Food Stamps, SSI, and Medicaid.
- In 1998, Gutierrez became the leading spokesman and national advocate for an effort to gain immigration parity for Central Americans, legislation that eventually was passed as NACARA. He has a long history of working with the Central American community in the United States on issues related to their particular immigration, temporary status, and refugee status issues.
- Successfully leading an effort in 2000 to open Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act so that immigrants could apply for and receive immigration-related documents in the U.S. and not have to travel to their country of origin.
First congressional office designated a "Community Based Organization: In 1994, the Congressman's office was designated a community-based organization having received a special waiver to conduct citizenship workshops and counseling for constituents in the Fourth District.
The first DREAM Act: In 2001, Gutierrez introduced the Immigrant Children's Educational Advantage and Dropout Prevention Act (H.R. 1582) to provide legal status to minors who had lived in the U.S. for at least five years and who are students. Later versions of this legislation to legalize young undocumented immigrants came to be known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. A version of the DREAM Act passed the Senate in 2006 (as part of comprehensive immigration reform) and passed the House in 2010 (as a stand-alone measure) but it has never been signed into law.