As the House Judiciary Committee inside the Capitol was marking up legislation Republicans said would strengthen enforcement of the nation's immigration system, Democrats gathered in the rain outside to blast the measure as one that would criminalize immigrants and create a culture of racial profiling.
Led by Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., and flanked by a few dozen Latino youths wearing caps and gowns and holding signs reading "I Am Not A Criminal" and "American Dreamer," lawmakers representing the Hispanic, black, progressive and Asian Pacific American caucuses called on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul package like the one currently on the Senate floor — and for Republicans to agree to work with Democrats on a bipartisan proposal.
"We have said to our Republican colleagues time and time again, we are ready to stand with you not as Democrats, or as Republicans, but as Americans, first and foremost," said Gutierrez, who is part of a bipartisan working group of seven House members to come up with draft legislation. "Don’t allow the partisan bickering and fighting, the debate on Benghazi and the IRS, the debate over the AP and whether we should be in Syria or not, to somehow sneak its way into the well that we have kept so clean ... when it comes to pursuing comprehensive immigration reform."
Gutierrez also said he and the 25 members — all Democrats — of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are also looking forward to their meeting Wednesday with Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to discuss their vision of the immigration rewrite, an event he described as "highly unusual."
It's unclear how the conversation might go, however, as Boehner all but pledged earlier Tuesday not to bring an immigration overhaul bill to the House floor that lacked the majority of the majority party's support.
In the meantime, Democrats assembled on Tuesday afternoon did not hold back in decrying the legislation being debated within the Judiciary Committee. As CQ Roll Call's Joanna Anderson reported, the panel backed a provision by Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., that would make being an illegal immigrant a crime punishable by up to six months in prison on a first offense. Other provisions considered by the committee would empower state and local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws.
House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York described the GOP efforts as "back to the same old, same old."
"It's like an out-of-touch '80s band trying to stay relevant, releasing a 'greatest hits' compilation of the worst immigration policies of recent years," he said.