By TINA IRGANG
WASHINGTON (Oct. 13, 2009)—More than 2,000 immigrants and reform advocates watched on Capitol Hill Tuesday as Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., outlined an immigration reform bill he hopes to introduce in the House of Representatives this fall.
Gutierrez introduced his proposal at a vigil organized by Reform Immigration for America, an alliance of more than 600 non-profit advocacy groups, including the National Council of La Raza and CASA de Maryland.
CASA de Maryland Executive Director Gustavo Torres also spoke at the vigil, saying "immigrant communities have heard the promises and the campaign speeches, but now we want action to go with the words."
Gutierrez said his bill will include a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants.
"If you come here to work hard, if you come here to strengthen America," he said, "then we will allow you to earn your legalization."
Gutierrez also promised humane treatment of detainees, and an end to immigration raids. He proposed a government commission that would determine visa quotas based on employer needs.
"Right now our visa quotas are determined by politics, not by labor and economic need," Gutierrez said.
Amid cheers and shouts of "Yes, we can," Gutierrez said: "We will not rest until the raids stop and our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers are no longer torn apart by the government of the United States of America."
Several other lawmakers attended the event, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y.
Clarke recalled her ancestors' roots in Jamaica and Panama, and said "we must have an immigration system worthy of the 21st century and worthy of all of us."
Before the vigil, families from 26 states, including Maryland, conducted visits on Capitol Hill to draw attention to their experiences with deportation, family separation and other issues related to their immigration status or that of a family member. Several families also appeared on stage at the vigil, including Hotaru Ferschke, her mother-in-law Robin Ferschke and son, Michael.
Ferschke was born in Japan and married U.S. Marine Michael Ferschke, who was killed in Iraq shortly before the birth of their son. She will not be allowed to remain in the U.S.
Addressing the audience, Robin Ferschke said: "How can they do this to the families of our soldiers? He fought for his country, now we have to fight our country over this."
In an interview before the event, Maryland State Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, who is not related to Rep. Luis Gutierrez, described the situation of undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families as "desperate" and reiterated her support for comprehensive reform.
"Representative Gutierrez has shown stellar leadership in the face of growing hatred and opposition to any kind of immigration reform," Gutierrez said. "I see his bill to be probably the best one that we're going to have before us."
Lawmakers and advocates hope the Senate will also produce a draft as soon as possible. State Delegate Gutierrez said Senate leadership on the issue will most likely come from Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security.
Schumer has repeatedly expressed his support for comprehensive immigration reform.
"The urgency for immigration reform cannot be overstated because it is so overdue," he said at a subcommittee hearing on Oct. 8. "We are not motivated by a desire to destroy the fabric of America, but rather to fix a broken system that is tragically leading to the creation of broken people, broken families, and broken communities."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.