UPDATE - 12/16/2009: The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP) Act of 2009 (H.R. 4321) now has 91 co-sponsors and I'm proud to report that my Congressional representative Jim Moran (VA-8) is one of them!. Click here to download a PDF copy of the immigration reform bill courtesy of ValleyCentral.com.
How marvellous to be able to be present as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL-4) and a huge cast of fellow Congressional representatives, backed up by members of the clergy and immigrant families from CASA de Maryland who came to the Hill to support the measure, introduced his Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP) Act of 2009. A summary of the legislation was circulated and a copy has already been posted online by Reform Immigration for America.
The room in the Rayburn House Office Building was hot and overly crowded with the many constituencies who have been waiting for this moment. The energy and enthusiasm were palpable and the speeches were punctuated by choruses of "Si, se puede" and "Yes, we can". And we did not have to wait for proof that "yes, we can": between the beginning of the press conference and when it ended more than two hours later, two additional co-sponsors had added their names to the bill bringing the total up to 89. Rep. Gutierrez said that this gives him hope. The last time the House of Representatives debated a comprehensive immigration reform package, the bill started with slightly more than 20 co-sponsors. Beaming at his multiethnic group of colleagues, he repeated with satisfaction: "Es que tenemos el equipo." We have the team now to do the job. He added that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been "a wonderful and consistent ally."
Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-12), who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, when asked if President Obama would honor the commitment he has made to the immigrant community on this issue, reaffirmed her faith in the president. "I believe President Obama is a man of his word and I take him at his word." In her remarks, she said that she has never been so proud in her 18 years in Congress and reflected on two immigrant men from Ecuador, José Sucuzhañay and Marcello Lucero, both victims of racially-motivated hate crimes, adding: "We cannot wait for one more person to be killed because of a broken system."
Several of the representatives who spoke reflected on their own immigrant experiences. Rep. Mike Honda (CA-15), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, mentioned that there are 1.5 million undocumented Asians in this country. "Some of us came on slave boats, some of us came in refugee boats, but we are all in the same boat and if there is a hole at one end of the boat, we are all affected," the congressman said. It was later mentioned that Rep. Honda has authored most of the sections of the bill dealing with family reunification, a critical issue in the Asian Pacific American community. Another Asian American representative, Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32) talked about her grandparents who came over from China with nothing and opened a Chinese restaurant.
Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY-7) reminisced about his Irish ancestors and how often people are forced to leave their countries out of economic necessity whether they want to or not. He mentioned that one of his cousins had been killed on 9/11 and said that was why he was supporting legalization as a way for us to know who is in the country and thus become more secure. He emphasized the importance of remembering the human dignity of immigrants that is so often exploited.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18) mentioned that her grandparents were Jamaican and learned Spanish as they worked building the Panama Canal. She spoke of mentoring a young Haitian woman who went to college and became a teacher. The young woman is now being threatened with deportation and the congresswoman is helping her fight the deportation. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (NY-11), Whip of the Congressional Black Caucus, also said that she is a second generation American and vowed to bring busloads of people from Brooklyn to lobby for this bill if required.
Other Congressional representatives who spoke were Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA-31), Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15), Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2), Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY-9), and Rep. Sam Farr (CA-17). The honor of introducing the bill in the House, however, went to the first person to speak after Rep. Gutierrez. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (TX-27) who has served in Congress for over 30 years and was the original head of the Hispanic Caucus will put this bill before his colleagues. Ortiz said he is confident that the legislation will "end the exploitation and abuse in the current system."
Rep. Gutierrez, for his part, deplored the "immigrant blame game" that has characterized public debate up until now but also praised his fellow immigrants who "rose above the immigrant blame game with patience, tolerance and dignity". He quoted Scripture on turning the other cheek and added "our immigrant community has turned so many cheeks that our heads are spinning." He characterized his bill as "pro family, pro jobs, and pro security" and said that it "should be our nation's immigration policy."