Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin met Monday with Latino immigrant community leaders in Chicago to discuss immigration reform, at times responding to some heated criticism of the bill he helped steer through the Senate last month.
In just two days, U.S. House Republicans plan to meet to figure out how to tackle the issue.
More than once, Durbin said he was unhappy about some compromises he made in order to come up with, and pass, SB 744. Durbin was one of the so-called “Gang of Eight” senators who drafted the legislation. In particular, he recalled how he felt about a final amendment that added 20,000 border patrol agents and called for the completion of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican line -- two measures that helped win the 68-32 vote on the bill.
“Alright, I’m going to just close my eyes and grit my teeth and I’m going to vote on more damn money on that border than I could ever possibly explain or rationalize,” Durbin said of the vote.
At one point during the invitation-only event, co-sponsored by the Latino Policy Forum and the University of Illinois at Chicago, women at one table began silently holding up signs as Durbin spoke.
“Your ‘pathway’ = genocide,” read one of them, referring to the 13-year pathway to citizenship that the Senate bill offers to many immigrants who have been living in the U.S. illegally.
Things escalated briefly when one audience member interjected, during the Q&A session, that the Senate bill “is a bill not for poor people,” referring to its requirement that immigrants earn at least 100 percent of the federal poverty level to remain on a pathway toward citizenship.
“I’ll tell you what’s not for poor people: The current situation is not for poor people,” Durbin responded, angrily. “How would you like to be part of the 12 million people undocumented in this country, subject to deportation at any minute, having to work off the books, hoping that when you get picked up in front of the Home Depot and promised you’re going to get $25 at the end of the day, they won’t push you out of the car?”
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are slated to meet Wednesday to discuss their party’s strategy on immigration reform.
So far, the House approach to immigration reform has been unclear. They appear unlikely to take up the Senate bill. A bipartisan group of seven Congressmen have drafted their own comprehensive bill, which the lawmakers may take up. Alternatively, the House may pass several pieces of legislation in a piecemeal approach.
Durbin said Monday that whatever the House passes, he’ll work with, as long as it preserved a pathway to citizenship.
“If the House Republicans come back and say we’ll let them stay here legally but not become citizens, no way,” he said. “Look at France. Look at the countries that try to embed within their population some group that is not a citizens group. It is an invitation for division, an invitation for social disaster.”
The issue of a pathway to citizenship remains deeply divisive among House members. Some say it amounts to amnesty, and have instead proposed a pathway to legalization, rather than full citizenship.