A project of the Center for Community Change

Now Comes Luis Gutierrez, the Undisputed Champion of Immigration Reform

gutierrez summitThis is the most recent post from our guest blogger, Robert Gittelson.

For years now, there has been a public outcry that has begged, pleaded, and at times demanded that our nation urgently enact Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Many have answered that call. However, there is one person that has courageously and steadfastly championed this cause with fidelity and devotion, above and beyond all others; Representative Luis Gutierrez

Next week, defying party leadership, and speaking for the collective conscious of those among us whose voices have for too long fallen on deaf ears, Representative Gutierrez will formally announce his legislative plans for righting the wrongs inherent in our current immigration laws and procedures.

The Reform Immigration for America campaign issued the following announcement on their website: “After months of waiting, we are finally going to see some action from lawmakers! On October 13th, in DC, Rep. Gutierrez will be putting forth proposals, enlisting coalitions of stakeholders and preparing for the ensuing debate. This will help break the logjam and ensure that this Congress debates immigration before they face voters again in November 2010.”

As expected, the “anti-immigration reformers” have launched a pre-emptive strike, by exclaiming that Rep. Gutierrez’s agenda will exclusively call for a mass “amnesty”. However, if past performance is any indication of future actions, Gutierrez has a pretty even handed approach on how to repair our broken immigration system. For example, I reference this quote from one of the “anti” articles that lays down their gauntlet.

“The Gutierrez Plan, if history is any indicator, will be soft on illegal aliens and again try to blur the lines between the plight of lawful immigrants and the illegal variety…. In the meantime Gutierrez will do what he has always done which is pander to the far left and flail away at the occasional windmill. If he’s not careful, his chivalrous intentions to help the poor illegal alien will result in a locking of swords within his own party.”

I, for one, beg to differ. For example, last year, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to speak on the subject of CIR at the University of Notre Dame, when their Law School held a symposium on this topic. More specifically, I wrote an article for their Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy, that addressed the subject of the STRIVE Act, the 2007 House version of CIR that Gutierrez authored, (with notable assistance from Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona). Please note the following passage from that paper:

“Initially, the plan will exponentially secure the border by the completion of a border fence.  While a fence alone will most certainly not, in and of itself, solve the problem of illegal entry, it is arguably the best way to start.  Furthermore, the CIR bills to date, such as the STRIVE Act, state from the outset that the Secretary of Homeland Security must certify to Congress that specific benchmarks have been implemented in border security and workplace enforcement before anything can be done to initiate new guest worker programs, or to begin any type of mass regularization of the legal status of any undocumented residents.[1]

Specifically, here are some of the enforcement requirements that would be implemented before any “amnesty”—a label restrictionists have used to describe the earned legalization requirements in the bill that really is a non-descriptive oversimplification of the lengthy and arduous process—can begin to be implemented:

1. vastly increased border enforcement personnel on both the southern and northern borders;[2]

2. assistance to Homeland Security from the Department of Defense that requires both agencies to submit plans to Congress detailing their efforts to coordinate their resources to secure the borders;[3]

3. the strengthening of infrastructure for border control (constructing roads, vehicle barriers, etc.) to achieve operational control of our borders;[4]

4. improvements and additions to our ports of entry;[5]

5. requiring DHS to acquire and maintain unmanned aerial vehicles and related surveillance technologies;[6]

6. the creation of criminal penalties for evading inspection at the borders;[7]

7. requiring DHS to develop and submit to Congress a national strategy for border security and a comprehensive plan for surveillance of the international land and maritime borders of the U.S., and to submit to Congress a report on improving the exchange of information on North American security;[8]

8. requiring the governments of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to work with the governments of Central America to improve security south of our border, specifically relating to gang and drug activity, and other law enforcement assistance;[9]

9. fraud prevention, by mandating that DHS produce biometric enhancements and train its officers in document fraud detection.  Would require that documents be machine readable, tamper resistant, and incorporate a biometric identifier, and would create new authorities for collecting biometric information from all immigrants and enforcing related penalties;[10]

10. law enforcement relief for states and localities, authorizing DHS to award grants to law enforcement agencies that provide border related assistance.  The Justice Department would also be allowed to reimburse state and local prosecutors for federally initiated and referred drug cases;[11]

11. increased penalties related to gang activities, failure to depart, and alien smuggling;[12]

12. increased criminal penalties for immigrant drunk driving;[13]

13. increased penalties to employers who hire unauthorized immigrant workers;[14]

14. making firearms sales to or possession by undocumented immigrants a federal crime;[15]

15. increased federal detention space;[16]

16. more ICE agents;[17]

17. enhanced penalties and reform of passport, visa, and document fraud offenses;[18]

18. increased criminal penalties associated with the illegal reentry of aliens with criminal records;[19]

19. mandated detention of criminal aliens to ensure their removal upon completion of their sentences;[20]

20. tightening of voluntary departure requirements;[21]

21. reaffirmation of the inherent authority for immigration enforcement by state and local police in order to enforce criminal provisions of the immigration laws;[22]

22. mandatory address reporting requirements for all aliens;[23]

23. expanded expedited removal provisions;[24]

24. expansion of the aggravated felony definition for deportable offenses.[25]

I would also mention that what Gutierrez is trying to do is not so much “tilting at windmills,” (although I do appreciate that create analogy), but restore a sense of fairness and humanity to this debate, since we are, in fact, talking about human lives. I wrote the following passage in a recent new article, Comprehensive Immigration Reform and Values: The Ideology Of Ideals:

Laws do not have to divide us. Laws should be written, or in this case amended to justly, fairly, and authoritatively govern the reality on the ground. What CIR advocates are saying is not, “Let’s put aside the rule of law in this case.” I believe that what they are saying is, “Let’s update and modify the laws to regulate and to achieve feasibility on the laws that will rule this issue as it is, and not how it was when the antiquated, outdated, and largely ineffective current laws were written.” This is much more about re-establishing the rule of law, than ignoring it.

I am speaking out on this topic now, because I sense, or perhaps fear that the CIR bill that is now being written in Congress, is going to veer away from our fundamental values as a nation, and that it’s authors are going to “appease” the ideologues, at the expense of our ideals. Certainly there exist political realities that are quantifiable and specific. However, we should not pander so far to the minority opinion, as to lose sight of the principals of the majority. The only thing worse than keeping the old flawed laws in place, is replacing those “bad” laws with “worse” laws.”

To maintain an even handed approach, I would like to note for the record that in the past, I have criticized Congressman Gutierrez when I thought that he was wrong. For example, I publicly called him out when he went too far, and compared Homeland Security to the Gestapo,

“Rep. Gutierrez was out of line. He should not have made the Gestapo comment. He was wrong, and should make a public apology. His comment was unfortunate. Gutierrez has the moral high ground, but concedes that lofty position when he lets his passion get in the way of his sound judgment and leadership on immigration issues.”

I might mention that this spring, I saw Gutierrez speak at a Familias Unidas event in San Bernardino. I would note that upon entry to the church grounds where he and Congressman Joe Baca were speaking, all of the attendees had to walk through a human gauntlet of protestors that were using hateful slogans and racial epithets to discourage people from entering the church. When it was Rep. Gutierrez’s turn to speak, he made the following statement,

“Congressman Gutierrez referenced the racist and hateful remarks by the protestors in front of the church entrance. He spoke of our nation’s history, and that in the 1850’s these same types of protestors used hate speech against the Irish. He noted that at the turn of the 20th century, they targeted the Italians with their bigotry. That was soon followed by women suffragettes, who were spit on in the streets. He spoke of the 1960’s when the targets of this hate were the blacks. He closed by noting that all of the above groups overcame adversity, and won their rights. Now, he said, it was time for the undocumented immigrants to receive their rights.”

I came away with the strong sense that he would fight and push and work for CIR until it is the law.

I am realistic enough to comprehend that the announcement next week by Rep. Gutierrez is just another step in the long march toward CIR. However, it is a major step. More importantly, it is a significant step. Someone has to break through the absence of forward inertia. It is only fitting that the Champion of Champions, Luis Gutierrez, lead us toward the finish line.

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