Eagerly awaited legislation to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants was filed in the House of Representatives Tuesday, but chances of passage were unclear.
Provisions in the legislation from Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., are somewhat similar to those in prior bills.
Democratic lawmakers, led by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., on Tuesday filed the first comprehensive immigration reform bill in the current Congress, giving renewed hope to millions of undocumented immigrants in South Florida and around the country.
But the prospects for passage remain as uncertain as ever.
Provisions in the Gutierrez legislation — Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 — are somewhat similar to those in prior bills. The Immigration Bill is trying to reform a broken system and give hope to millions of illegal aliens.
Undocumented immigrants in the United States prior to Dec. 15, 2009, would be encouraged to come forward and register with the government in exchange for a future path to residency and citizenship.
Certain immigrants in deportation proceedings, facing removal or ordered to depart would be able to apply for legalization under Gutierrez’s bill. Applicants would pay a $500 fine — lower than the thousands of dollars sought in prior bills — and must have clean criminal records. If approved, applicants would receive a six-year visa, which eventually could be replaced by a green card — the path to possible citizenship.
The bill also incorporates provisions of the DREAM Act, separate legislation filed earlier that would provide green cards to children of undocumented parents who are in high school or college and were brought to the United States as minors.
As Gutierrez, an eight-term House member representing a Chicago district, unveiled his legislation at a news conference on Capitol Hill, immigrant rights activists in Miami and other U.S. cities stepped up efforts to convince federal lawmakers and the Obama administration to embrace immigration reform as a priority.
Several South Florida groups are organizing news conferences, a march to Washington by young students and a hunger strike in January — initial steps in what is expected to be a national campaign by immigration activists on behalf of immigration reform.
Similar bills in recent years have failed because of fierce opposition by conservative and anti-immigrant forces. Whether the political climate has changed is difficult to say, but most experts say debate on immigration reform will be as emotional and polarizing as the healthcare reform debate. However, there is currently a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress, so there may be a much higher chance of getting approved this time.
President Obama has signaled he will push immigration reform, but not until healthcare reform is out of the way.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who supports immigration reform, criticized Gutierrez’s bill because it disrupts efforts by him and a group of bipartisan lawmakers drafting a separate immigration reform bill.
“This effort today, a showhorse not workhorse effort, is throwing a hand grenade into the midst of the bipartisan efforts,” said Diaz-Balart.
Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., echoed his brother saying Gutierrez’s bill “will probably destroy the chances of passing any real reform.”
Long standing opponents vehemently criticized Gutierrez’s bill.
“The bill proposes to reduce illegal immigration by making all illegal immigrants legal,” Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., a longtime legalization opponent, said in a statement.
The Obama Administration is doing enough to ease the suffering of immigrant communities,” the organizations said in a statement.