WASHINGTON - One of Congress' leading immigrant-rights advocates introduced a bill Tuesday to allow millions of illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens and end a controversial program that enlists local police to enforce immigration laws.
But the 700-page bill by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., is widely viewed as too liberal to pass.
Click to view image: 'Invasion'
“I don't think that even Congressman Gutierrez expects his bill to pass," said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California. "He's showing a willingness to fight. And he's putting pressure on the Obama administration to act.”
About the House bill
The immigration-reform bill introduced Tuesday by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., would:
• Repeal the 287(g) program that lets local police and sheriff's deputies enforce federal immigration law and allows jail and prison officials to screen crime suspects and convicted criminals for immigration violations so they can be deported.
• Allow illegal immigrants to obtain legal status by paying a $500 fine and showing that they have made a contribution to the country through their work, education, military or community service.
• Emphasize strong border security while calling for increased oversight of border agents to ensure that civil liberties are protected.
Administration officials have said they are working on a more moderate, bipartisan, immigration-reform bill to be introduced in the Senate early next year by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that the House will defer to the Senate on immigration reform.
Still, Gutierrez made it clear that he and his allies expect a seat at the negotiating table as lawmakers and the White House seek middle ground on the polarizing issue.
His bill, endorsed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Black Caucus and Asian Pacific American Caucus, also lets Democrats assure Latino voters that reform remains a top priority, despite being sidelined this year by the economy and the push for health-care reform. Congress watchers say that could go a long way to motivating Hispanic voters during next year's midterm elections.
Gutierrez's bill would allow immigrants who are in the country illegally to stay while they apply to become legal residents or citizens. Undocumented immigrants would have to pay a $500 fine and show that they have made a contribution to the country through their work, education, military or community service.
The legislation also calls for the repeal of the controversial 287(g) program, which enlists local police and sheriff's deputies to enforce federal immigration laws. The bill says that only the federal government has the authority to enforce those laws.
"As a candidate for president, Barack Obama promised comprehensive immigration reform, and we have brought him the bill to accomplish this," Gutierrez said Tuesday.
Hispanic voters helped propel Obama into the White House: He won two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in the 2008 presidential race, according to an analysis of exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center. He beat Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., overwhelmingly among Hispanic voters despite McCain's generally moderate stance on immigration issues.
Click to view image: 'Trash'
"People feel shocked and completely betrayed that any elected official would propose legalizing illegal immigrants, stopping local police from enforcing immigration law, and stopping increased border security when we have over 15 million Americans out of work," said William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has co-sponsored immigration-reform bills with Gutierrez in the past, criticized the bill for watering down the penalties that illegal immigrants would face before they could become legal residents. Previous bills have called for a $2,000 fine and required undocumented workers to return to their home countries before returning to the United States.
Although the Senate bill is still being written, it is expected to be far more moderate and impose tougher penalties for illegal immigrants seeking legal status. It also will emphasize border security and could address the issue of how workers flow into and out of the country.
In a meeting last week with The Arizona Republic, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the Obama administration wants a bill that would require illegal immigrants to register with the government, undergo criminal-background checks, pay taxes and learn English, among other requirements. The bill also would include "some process by which, after that, they could apply for naturalization and to citizenship. But not in advance of people who are already waiting," she said.
Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said he believes Gutierrez's bill is going nowhere.
"Congressman Gutierrez is an ardent supporter of immigrant rights and has introduced at least 20 major immigration bills in the past 10 years, but none has been cleared by a committee for a vote on the House floor," Lewis said.
But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said the Gutierrez bill is the right path to reform. "Immigration policy must deal fairly and intelligently with the millions of hard-working, responsible, undocumented workers already in the country," Grijalva said. "Declaring war on the border is not an option."
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