Hispanic Congressional Caucus Starts Petition Urging Obama to Enact Amnesty

By Penny Starr | February 4, 2009 | 6:08 PM EST

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), center, spoke at a prayer vigil led by the Rev. Miguel Rivera, left, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, on Wednesday on the terrace of the Canon Building to launch a petition drive for comprehensive immigration reform. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) joined a prayer vigil on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, vowing to deliver thousands of petitions to President Barack Obama, urging him to keep his campaign promise of "comprehensive immigration reform," including a path to citizenship--or what conservatives call amnesty--for the 12 to 14 million people in the United States illegally.

“If you can show us that you want to work, that you want to take English classes, that you are ready to pay a fine and are ready to engage in a program, then after six or seven or eight years, whatever Congress decides, you graduate,” Gutierrez told CNSNews.com. “We want to give you an opportunity to change that status of yours.
“Some call that amnesty,” Gutierrez said. “All we say is we let you earn it. Amnesty is for me to wake up one day and say you’re forgiven [and] you don’t even have to say you are sorry. These people basically have to come forward and say, ‘look, give me a chance and you won’t regret it.’”

Hispanics hold hands and pray at a vigil Wednesday in Washington, D.C., across the street from the Capitol. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

The press briefing and prayer vigil, held on the terrace of the Cannon House Office Building, marks the launch of a five-week, 14-city tour to encourage legal immigrants and permanent residents to sign petitions urging comprehensive immigration reform and “to document the harm caused to citizens across our nation in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform.”
“We’re going to listen to testimony,” Gutierrez said. “We’re going to hear that our broken immigration system is saying to an American citizen husband, ‘your wife must be deported.’ To a soldier in Iraq, ‘your wife must be deported.’ To American citizen children, whose only plea is, don’t deport my mom and dad. I love this country. I am a citizen of this country. Don’t destroy my family.”
Gutierrez also called for a ban on workplace raids that have rounded up and deported hundreds of illegal aliens across the country in recent years.

A Latino man prays at the vigil to encourage lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

“Let’s end these raids,” Gutierrez said. “Let’s end them. You want to go after drug traffickers? Good idea. You want to go after those involved in human smuggling? Good idea. You want to go after gang bangers and drug dealers? Good idea. But let me just say, that the Windex-wielding lady at K-Mart cleaning the windows at one in the morning is not a security threat to this country.”
“Go after those who are a threat, but leave our families alone until this Congress, and very importantly, the president fulfills his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform so that we don’t have these problems anymore,” Gutierrez said.
Two years ago, Gutierrez sponsored House Resolution 1645 – The Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act, or STRIVE Act of 2007, which would establish a temporary worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens.
The legislation did not pass, and Gutierrez said he and co-sponsor Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) will not reintroduce the legislation until they see Obama’s plan for comprehensive immigration reform.
“We are waiting to hear from our president, Barack Obama, about what he is going to do,” Gutierrez said. “We want to work with him. “And most important, from our perspective, we have a friend in the White House who has made a commitment to comprehensive immigration reform,” Gutierrez added.

Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to "fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill."

Obama also vowed to "bring people out of the shadows" by requiring undocumented immigrants to pay a fine, learn English, and "go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens."