On a conference call with reporters Friday, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL,4) urged youths, like the two teens who approached House Speaker John Boehner at a diner this week to discuss immigration reform, and supporters of the movement to keep the heat on Republican leaders about passing a bill that would fix the nation’s broken immigration system.
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL,4) applauded the two teens with undocumented parents who confronted House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH,8) in a diner this week about immigration reform, saying they had a “profound” impact on the GOP leader and helped to “humanize” the discussion in Washington, D.C.
On a conference call with reporters Friday, Gutierrez urged youth and others who have been building momentum for an immigration reform vote in the House to keep the heat on Republican leaders.
“No matter where Speaker Boehner goes, there will be youth joining him for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, in his district and wherever he travels, because (immigration reform advocates) are everywhere, and we are organized,” the congressman stressed.
Jennifer Martinez, 16, and Carmen Lima, 13, with the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, approached Boehner as he ate breakfast Wednesday morning at Pete’s Diner on Capitol Hill to share their family stories and ask for a vote on immigration reform. The conversation was captured on video.
Boehner told the teens that he’s “trying to find some way to get this thing done.”
“It’s, uh, you know, not easy — not gonna be an easy path forward. But I’ve made it clear since the day after the election that I’m going to get this done,” the House speaker said, adding that “I will try to find a way to move the bill forward.”
But later on Wednesday, Boehner told reporters that House Republicans would not consider the Senate’s bipartisan immigration bill or go to conference on the measure.
Boehner wants the House to take up immigration reform in a piecemeal fashion, rather than consider a single comprehensive measure. Last month, House Democrats introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill that resembles the Senate measure, which passed in June, and would include an eventual pathway to citizenship.
Gutierrez took to task the notion that immigration reform is now dead, saying, “The death of comprehensive immigration reform has been announced so many times that no one should listen any more.”
“Every time they’ve declared it dead, and it’s been at least half a dozen occasions this year alone, it seems to come back with more energy and more vigor than before,” he noted.
He said the conversations between Democrats and Republicans are continuing, noting that “at some moment they will bear fruit.”
“It is marching forward, and it will be incumbent upon Republicans to take steps forward,” the congressman said, adding that he knows “those steps are being taken.”
Nonetheless, Martinez, who lives in Washington state, told reporters Friday that she was “extremely disheartened” upon hearing the speaker’s comments just hours after sharing her story with him.
“You come all this way to approach someone who you’re counting on their emotion, you’re counting on their sense of humanity, their morals, to at least look at you as you share your story … It’s disappointing,” she said.
But she won’t keep fighting, because “the 11 million [undocumented immigrant] lives can’t wait any longer,” Martinez said.
Other immigrant rights advocates are also delivering that message on the National Mall as they participate in a hunger fast for immigration reform and citizenship. The “Fast for Families” kicked off Tuesday and is being held in solidarity with other immigration-related fasting actions already underway.
SEIU* President Mary Kay Henry is among those who began fasting Tuesday to show support for “the brave fasters who remain undeterred” to “win citizenship for millions.”
Henry later added that she believes SEIU has the ability to influence House and Senate Republicans on the issue of immigration reform in the states and districts where the union has active members.
“Thirty percent of SEIU’s members are registered Republicans and they’ve been activated across this country in this fight,” she said. “What we are bound to do is hold all of Congress accountable for acting on fixing this broken system … There will be a price for inaction, and we want the price to be felt equally by Democrats who are unwilling to stand up and lead in this and Republicans.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said he believes that the House will pass individual immigration-related bills in the first six months of next year, which will then go back and forth between the chamber and the Senate. He noted, however, that if comprehensive immigration reform isn’t passed within that time period, there will be repercussions.
“It’s up to (House Republicans) to come forward … do their job, and if they don’t, well then there are going to be consequences to those decisions,” he said. “We would much rather have a result than an electoral fight over this issue, but if this Congress isn’t going to pass reform, a lot of us are going to spend a lot of time next year trying to elect a Congress that will.”
At the end of the day, Boehner may control the legislative calendar, Gutierrez said, but he doesn’t control the movement for justice and fairness.
“As long as there’s 1,100 people being deported every day, and millions live in fear from deportation, and we have a broken immigration system that separates and divides families, this is a fight that will continue,” the congressman said. “They didn’t start our struggle and our fight, they cannot call the end of it. We will determine when it’s done.”
*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.