Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) participated in his first hearing since rejoining the House Judiciary Committee and the topic was right up his alley: America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws against Illegal Immigration. Gutierrez said the fact that the first hearing of the full Judiciary Committee was on immigration was a sign that the Republicans are changing their tune on the issue.
"For years we have been talking about electrified fences, overblown stereotypes of criminals and gangbangers, and mass deportation fantasies in Republican-controlled immigration hearings," Rep. Gutierrez said. "Most Republicans I talk to understand that 11 million people here illegally will not be leaving the country and that holding out for their 'self deportation' puts Republican lawmakers out of step with the country as a whole."
Rep. Gutierrez noted that his parents, who were U.S. citizens who migrated from Puerto Rico to Chicago in the 1950s, were not highly educated, but were given a chance to raise a family and sent two kids to college and one to the United States Congress.
"There is a lot of talk about high skilled immigration and I support legal immigration for highly skilled immigrants," Gutierrez said. "The beauty of the American experience with immigration is that it does not and should not have income tests, education barriers, and exclusions for humble people like my parents and the parents of a lot of Members of Congress. We need 'both-and' not 'either-or' when it comes to the mix of family and business immigration when we reform the system."
"Some of the Republicans cannot help themselves when talking about immigrants and gravitate to a stereotypical discussion of gangs, criminals, and the boogie-man of open borders," Rep. Gutierrez said. "Despite this, we are starting in a different place this year in Congress, with much less grandstanding and fear mongering by the anti-immigration wing of the Republicans."
"The issue of citizenship for immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally is a much bigger issue for Republican elected officials than it is for the American people," Gutierrez said. "For the American people, citizenship means you are sharing the load, making the same sacrifices, having the same rights and the same responsibilities. Republicans who are shying away from citizenship as a goal now will learn that citizenship strengthens their position with their base and the rest of America, not weakens it."
The make-up of the two panels of witnesses at the hearing gave Rep. Gutierrez some hope that Republicans are serious about working towards immigration reform. The three Republican witnesses on the first panel are generally supportive of legal immigration for highly skilled and highly educated people, and were joined by Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, who supports legal immigration across education and class levels.
"Look, we need legal immigration across skill and education levels so that we do not create an underground for workers after reform," said Rep. Gutierrez. "I think Mayor Castro's remarks make clear the goal of keeping families together in our immigration system, because it makes sense from a social and an economic point of view."
But, Gutierrez noted: "The hearing's second panel was more of a throwback to the Republicans' default position that calls for more deportations and more enforcement first, last and always. The deportation-only approach has not worked for two decades and most of us on Capitol Hill take the view that enforcement must be combined with legalization, legal immigration, and other reforms in order fix our immigration system."
Rep. Gutierrez said he is optimistic that House Republicans will follow the lead of key GOP leaders like Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Paul Ryan, and Sen. Marco Rubio in remaining open to immigration reform that includes legalization leading to citizenship and wider legal immigration avenues so that we get control over immigration.
"Many of the House Republicans I talk to understand that they have mishandled the immigration issue and that their approach has alienated voters," Rep. Gutierrez said. "Other Republicans see the wisdom of legalizing people who have lived and worked here for a long time and ensuring that the people who come in the future come legally in a controlled and orderly manner with basic rights and visas. Whatever the reason that brings Republicans back to the immigration negotiating table, I am glad they are back and look forward to working with them to resolve this issue for the American people."