PI Original Ellyn Fortino Thursday July 11th, 2013, 4:57pm

IL Immigration Reform Advocates to U.S. House Leadership: Take Up The Senate Bill

Illinois business leaders and immigrant advocates are putting the heat on U.S. House Republicans after they met for a closed-door meeting on immigration Wednesday and signaled that they would not consider the Senate-passed bill. Instead, House GOP leaders say they plan to take their time piecing together their own approach to immigration reform.

Illinois business leaders and immigrant advocates are putting the heat on U.S. House Republicans after they met for a closed-door meeting on immigration Wednesday and signaled that they would not consider the Senate-passed bill. Instead, House GOP leaders say they plan to take their time piecing together their own approach to immigration reform.

“I am very disappointed and very frustrated with the position that Republican leadership took yesterday, and quite frankly, I think that they’re wrong,” said Omar Duque, president and CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “They are wrong in just about everything that they’ve said and every position that they’ve taken on this.”

Wednesday’s conference meeting was the first time House Republicans gathered to tackle immigration since the Senate passed its chamber’s bill last month by a 68-32 vote. The Senate bill, S. 744, creates a pathway to citizenship for America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and ramps up border security, among other provisions. 

Following the meeting, House Republicans said they plan to take up the immigration issue on a bill-by-bill basis, rather than with a larger measure like the Senate bill. Pieces of legislation that the House could possibly consider, which have already passed committee, involves border enforcement and security, the E-verify system, and immigrant visas for certain advanced workers. It is not yet clear if or how the House will address legalization and a pathway to citizenship.

“‘Comprehensive’ has always been a swear word in the House of Representatives, but having a step-by-step approach that deals with the issue comprehensively, I don’t think that’s dead,” U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID, 1) said after the meeting, according to the New York Times. Labrador was a member of the original bipartisan Gang of Eight House representatives (now a Gang of Seven) who are working on a comprehensive immigration bill for the chamber, but he left the group in early June.

Regardless of what the House comes up with, Speaker John Boehner has said he would not call any immigration reform measure for a full House vote unless a majority of Republicans have already endorsed it.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL, 4) called out Boehner on a conference call with reporters Thursday, saying the speaker needs to provide the opportunity for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform.

“I assure you that if today, at this moment, a vote were called for comprehensive immigration reform, there are more than 218 votes,” the congressman said. “The speaker merely has to allow democracy to show its hand. I thought that’s what we were all about, allowing a majority of the majority to vote, not of a party.”

Gutiérrez is a member of the Group of Seven and is also chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' Immigration Task Force. Hispanic Caucus members met with President Barack Obama on Wednesday to talk about the next steps for immigration reform.

House GOP leaders also issued a controversial joint statement after Wednesday’s meeting:

Today House Republicans affirmed that rather than take up the flawed legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system. The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy. But they don't trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they're alarmed by the president's ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem. The president has also demonstrated he is willing to unilaterally delay or ignore significant portions of laws he himself has signed, raising concerns among Americans that this administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate.

Co-chairs of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition pushed back on the GOP leaders’ statement, saying it is “perplexing” that House Republicans see the Senate bill as too massive.

“The bill’s size in no way detracts from the fact that it is the thoughtful product of bipartisan negotiations that has drawn uncommon support from constituencies across the political spectrum, including fourteen Republican senators,” a statement from the coalition reads.

The coalition also took House Republicans to task over their argument that the Senate bill does not include enough border security measures.

Members of the coalition said the Senate bill includes more than 500 pages dealing with border security and represents an “unprecedented investment of tens of billions of dollars a year that, if anything, is excessive,” the co-chairs wrote. 

On a separate conference call with reporters Thursday, Illinois business leaders noted that U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), a tough immigration reform critic in the past, ended up voting for the Senate measure after stronger border security measures were added to the package. 

Dave Bender, co-chair of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition and chairman of the Logan County Republican Party, said if the main concern among House Republicans is securing the border, “then we suggest [the House] take up the Senate bill.”

“Pass it,” Bender said. “This will be [the] most effective border security by developing a workable immigration policy.”

Mike Holewinski, chairman of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, called the GOP leaders' statement a “step back.”

“Their attempt to somehow tie the issue to Obamacare and to change the focus to enforcing laws that everybody agrees don’t work is simply pandering to the worst instincts in people of this country,” he continued. “I believe now is not the time for partisan posturing. The Senate bill provides the pathway. The House should follow their lead.”

Common sense immigration reform is good for business, the economy and the country, members of the coalition said. And Duque urged both House Republicans and Democrats from Illinois to be the voice of reason and “push back against Republican leadership to bring a comprehensive bill to the House and bring it to a vote.”

In an effort to build bipartisan support in the House, Congressman Gutiérrez is set to kick off a multi-city tour of Republican congressional districts this month starting Saturday.

The congressman is expected to take part in public events and press conferences with local workers and leaders. He said he will stress immigration reform’s positive impact on the U.S. economy. Some of the cities he will tour include: Bakersfield, California; Aurora and Denver, Colorado; Hood River and Portland, Oregon; and Yakima, Washington.

The congressman plans to raise “the stories and the urgency of the moment” across the country.

“I want to meet with workers, because I think that in America we’re going to have to make a decision really soon. Do you want your food picked by foreign hands in foreign countries? Or do you want your picked food right here in the United States of America by foreign hands,” he asked. “Let me tell you, nobody’s sending their kids to school to pick. That’s dirty, hard, back-breaking work, but it is crucial and essential and should be rewarded.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) is reminding state Republicans, including U.S. House Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R, IL-6), what happened last November. During the November 2012 election cycle, Latinos, Asians and other immigrant communities called for comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship, and marched to the polls in record numbers to vote. The Republican Party lost four congressional seats in the election as well as five seats in the state Senate.

Bender, a Republican who has worked on five statewide political campaigns, said he is tired of the Republic Party getting its “brains beat in on statewide campaigns.”

“It’s very, very difficult to compete with growing numbers of Latino support, and I hope that our Republican members of Congress in Illinois understand this,” he said.

ICIRR added that more and more immigrants are moving to the suburbs, including DuPage, Lake and McHenry counties, which spells bad news for Republicans.

“The message is clear – Congressman Roskam and his Republican colleagues in our state's House delegation need to get to work immediately on a comprehensive immigration reform, not piecemeal work," said ICIRR CEO Lawrence Benito. "If Republicans continue to ignore the needs of the Latino and immigrant communities, they face the possibility of becoming extinct."

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