As the U.S. Senate prepares to restart debating the controversial immigration reform bill this week, hundreds of people packed a Minneapolis school auditorium Saturday to listen to two lawmakers who say they are strong advocates for a comprehensive immigration reform.
Speaking at Washburn High School, Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., highlighted the need to fix what they described as “a broken immigration system exasperated by huge backlogs.”
“I’m in favor of a clear pathway to citizenship for immigrants,” said Ellison. “Our government has an obligation to clear the backlog in the immigration system.”
An estimated 3.4 million applications by legal immigrants seeking family reunification are pending, according to Gutierrez, who recently introduced the Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act (STRIVE).
The 740-page legislation is likely to be the blueprint for the House’s version of the immigration reform bill if the Senate passes the measure. Among other things, Gutierrez said it would end the backlog in six years, and would create a legalization pathway for most of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
“This is not an amnesty,” he stressed. “But it’s a way to decriminalize hard-working immigrants.”
Under his proposal, undocumented immigrants would pay fines and back taxes to earn their legal status. They would also get in line behind legal immigrants for immigration benefits.
But unlike the Senate version, the STRIVE Act gives more weight to the traditional family-based immigration. The Senate favors skill-based immigration, which is pushed hard by employers.
“Families are stronger when they are united,” Gutierrez told a cheering crowd. Some held placards that read: “Legalization for all,” and “Stop the raids!”
Gutierrez’s proposal is so comprehensive that it would even allow refugees holding the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to apply for permanent residency. More than 3,000 Minnesota refugees, mostly from Liberia and Somalia, are holding the status, which is given to individuals from war-torn countries.
Liberian TPS holders would especially benefit from the STRIVE Act because they are facing repatriation at the end of this year, when their TPS expires. Citing improved security in Liberia, the U.S. government refused to renew their status.
The weekend forum was organized by local activists and state legislators, who presented two resolutions by the state legislature urging Congress to reform immigration.
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to take up the immigration bill once members of the Senate settle their vast differences sometime in next few weeks.