Gutierrez, Ryan push immigration overhaul in Chicago

April 22, 2013

(WBEZ/Alex Keefe)
Congressmen Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, and Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, pushed for immigration reform in Chicago Monday.

A Midwestern political odd couple teamed up in Chicago Monday to build momentum for an immigration overhaul in Congress, even as some lawmakers have urged a slowdown following last week’s bombings at the Boston Marathon.

United States Reps. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, and Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said they hope to usher an immigration reform bill through the GOP-led House by the end of the summer.

A sweeping immigration bill that would provide a path to legalization for millions of illegal immigrants was introduced in the U.S. Senate last week. Gutierrez said he and Ryan are in the process of drafting a House bill.

“[N]ow it is time, at the end of the day, after they sweat and they toil, that they can receive the same satisfaction of being a citizen,” Gutierrez said.

Ryan, meanwhile, stressed that changing the “broken” immigration system goes along with quintessentially Republican ideals. He pointed to his own family’s immigration from Ireland during the Great Famine.

“There is no other economic system – no other immigration system – that has done more to lift people out of poverty than the American free enterprise system and the American immigration system that we have here,” Ryan said.

The congressmen offered few specifics about the contours of a House immigration bill, but they did highlight several possible components.

The measure would include an electronic verification system that would allow employers to check the immigration status of would-be workers, Gutierrez said. He also stressed that U.S. officials should crack down on people who overstay their visas, and wants to implement a guest worker program that includes safeguards to protect immigrants against exploitation.

Ryan, for his part, stressed that an immigration overhaul would strengthen national security by beefing up the country’s borders.

In the wake of the Boston bombings, allegedly perpetrated by two ethnic Chechen brothers who immigrated to the U.S. legally, some Republicans have raised concerns about moving forward with an immigration overhaul too quickly.

But Ryan said he’s not concerned about fellow Republican withdrawing their support, and cautioned against making a “knee-jerk assessment” about how the Boston bombings might play on Capitol Hill.

“We need a modern immigration that helps us not only protect our border, but protects national security in all of its aspects,” Ryan said. “So if anything, I would say this is an argument for modernizing our immigration laws.”

A bill in the U.S. Senate would provide a path toward legal status for millions of illegal immigrants, provided they pay a fines and back taxes. Those immigrants could be eligible for citizenship after 13 years. The bill would also provide billions of dollars to beef up border security, and would impose an electronic verification system for employers.

But some groups have taken issue with the Senate bill, saying it may not provide enough protections for some foreign workers. Others have complained it would abolish visas for immigrants from countries that are underrepresented in the U.S.