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. I also serve on the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security and as the former 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.
Having a functioning legal immigration system will make a secure border. If the vast majority of those coming to our country have a legitimate, legal, orderly way to do so, they will use it. This would make the human-smuggling business much less profitable, make patrolling the border easier because more traffic is coming through ports of entry and spreads scarce government resources more efficiently across the long international borders we have. A physical fence can lead us to believe that the border is secure.The same goes for spending more money on border patrol agents from the Department of Homeland Security, which is by far our largest law enforcement agency. What will really give us better security is a functioning legal immigration system where people go through it and not around it. Then drug smugglers, criminals, terrorists, and human smugglers will stand out, not blend in; allowing other aspects of border security spending to work better to keep us safe.
There is an estimated 11.5 million undocumented people living, working and raising families in the United States. We need to get those with no criminal records into the system, on the books, and the ability to earn legal status. It is in our national interest to reestablish the rule of law and make 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.
113th CONGRESS (2013-2014)
The 113th Congress started with the great promise that enactment of bipartisan immigration reform legislation was possible. I returned to the House Judiciary Committee for the 113th Congress, where I was granted my request to sit on the Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee. President Obama made it clear that passing comprehensive immigration reform was his number one legislative priority. I was – and remain – committed to working with my Democratic and Republican colleagues to fix our broken immigration system.
Immediately after the 2012 elections, I worked closely with a bipartisan group of eight members in the House of Representatives to negotiate and draft a comprehensive immigration reform package. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus released a statement of principles for immigration reform in November entitled “One Nation: Principles on Immigration Reform and Our Commitment to the American Dream” which outlines the key components that we believe should be present in a comprehensive bill.
In 2013 and 2014, I was asked to testify before the House Judiciary Committee alongside three of my Republican colleagues in support of creating a permanent solution to give DREAM Act-eligible youth legal status and a pathway to citizenship in this country. I also testified before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee during a Chicago field hearing in support of legislation to allow undocumented students to serve in the Armed Forces and to contribute to our national security.
As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I worked with Ranking Member John Conyers, Immigration Subcommittee Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren and other Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to craft an immigration reform package that would be inclusive, ensure our common security, and provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the shadows. The House Judiciary Committee marked up several bills addressing various facets of our immigration system. Some of the bills received bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee. Others, like the so-called “SAFE Act,” which needlessly criminalized immigrants and drove a wedge between law enforcement and the communities they serve, I strongly opposed.
In June 2013, the Senate came together and passed a bipartisan immigration reform proposal. The legislation, S. 744, was the result of compromises between Republicans and Democrats and had the support of key stakeholders from the business community to labor, farm workers and farmers, community leaders and the faith community. It had a rigorous 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants who register with the federal government and get right with the law, improved our visa system to ensure that workers in key industries can work legally in the U.S. rather than leave and lend their ideas and talents to our competitors in other countries, targeted unscrupulous employers, and dramatically increased resources for border security. In spite of the broad public support for the Senate bill, House Republicans refused to allow a vote on the legislation.
I continued working, devoting long hours to discussion and months of negotiations and drafting with my Republican colleagues, but unfortunately the bipartisan effort to draft a bill collapsed as key members left the group. After initially proposing a set of immigration principles in January 2014, the House Republican Leadership withdrew their support. Ultimately, it was made clear that the Republican Majority was not going to allow a vote on the Senate immigration bill, on H.R. 15, the House bipartisan immigration proposal, nor were they going to offer their own immigration reform proposal.
While I was working in Congress to reach common ground on immigration reform, I spoke out about the impact of the record level of deportations that separated families and have continued over the past six years. I carefully monitored the progress of the Department of Homeland Security as they applied prosecutorial discretion and lifted up cases that merited discretion under the Administration’s policy. I also advocated publicly and privately to the Administration that they do everything in their power to address the record deportations and to utilize their executive authority to the fullest extent under the law. In December 2013, I joined 28 other members of the House of Representatives in asking the President to use his executive power to halt the deportations of the parents of young people who have received DACA and those who would qualify for legal status under the Senate bipartisan immigration legislation.
After giving the House Republican Leadership the opportunity to present their own immigration reform legislation, the devastation of 2 million deportations under the Obama Administration and the pain of separated families led community leaders to call for relief in the face of congressional inaction. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus prepared a memorandum for President Obama outlining steps that he could take under existing law, without the need for congressional action, to make our immigration system better reflect our national priorities, preserve family unity, and focus our enforcement resources on criminals instead of on moms, dads and kids. The President and the Secretary of Homeland Security are reviewing those recommendations and have stated that they will take action this year.
Because Republicans have refused to allow a vote on legislation to repair our immigration system, I have encouraged President Obama to act boldly and decisively to provide relief for millions of American families who are being torn apart by deportations. In our memo to the President, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus identified a number of steps the President and his Administration could take to make immigration enforcement activities more humane. We recommended the President expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – which has successfully allowed over 500,000 young immigrants to come forward, pass FBI background checks, and receive work authorization and temporary protection from deportation – to other low-priority individuals like the parents of U.S. citizen or permanent resident children and the parents and siblings of DACA recipients. We have also suggested the President extend Parole in Place, which has been used to preserve family unity for military families with members who are without lawful immigration status, allowing immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to apply for a green card without being subject to the 3-or 10-year bar.
While none of these executive actions would be as meaningful and permanent as the passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, I believe that the President has the authority under current law to take steps to address some significant problems with our existing immigration system. Setting aside the cases of individuals who present no threat to American security, have long-standing community ties, and are contributing to our economy will significantly increase our national security, preserve family unity, and allow our immigration enforcement officers to focus their attention and resources on individuals who are rightly high priorities for detention and removal.
112TH CONGRESS (2011-2012)
Preventing the Separation of Families
Every day my offices in Chicago and Washington hear from people whose families are being ripped apart because of deportation. 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 a 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 county, among many other factors.
Then on June 15, 2012, the Obama Administration announced the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to provide DREAM Act-eligible immigrants who came to the United States as minors temporary protection from deportation and a two year work authorization. The Department of Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began receiving requests for Deferred Action on August 15, 2012.
In Chicago, I worked with local organizations to host the largest clinic in the country at the historic Navy Pier. Over 13,000 people lined up to receive assistance filling out their applications. Eligible students across the country have been able to receive relief from the threat of removal and the ability to work legally for two years.
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 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, theComprehensive 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. - LVG
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 Illinois’ 4th Congressional District to help constituents navigate the citizenship process. As of 2014, more than 55,000 constituents had received assistance from the Congressman to make the transition from legal permanent resident to citizen of the United States. The Congressman obtained “community based organization” recognition from the Director (Doris Meissner) of the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)in order to help applicants apply for citizenship at community workshops in his District.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform: In 2004 (108th Congress), Gutierrez introduced his first 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 most senior Member, the Dean of the Caucus, Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (D-TX).
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 provide legal status to Central Americans who had strong ties to the U.S., legislation that eventually was passed as NACARA. Because Republicans stripped out equal benefits to tens of thousands of immigrants from Central America in NACARA, he has spent years working to enact parity for those who were left behind. 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.
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.
First congressional office designated a "Community Based Organization: In 1994, the Congressman's office was designated a community-based organization having received special consideration to conduct citizenship workshops and counseling for constituents in the Fourth District.One of my proudest accomplishments has been helping families take the first step toward citizenship. In 1994 my office was the first Congressional office to receive recognition as a Community-Based Organization, which marked a historic departure and unique approach to constituent services. This special designation allowed me to conduct citizenship workshops and counseling for constituents of the Fourth District, making my office a truly “one-stop” service center for families to learn about the process to become American citizens. Through these citizenship workshops my office has assisted more than 50,000 families with their applications for citizenship. Because of the success of my innovative approach in assisting families gain citizenship, other members of Congress have now implemented similar workshops in their districts.