SAN FRANCISCO — The 109th and 110th editions of the U.S. Congress debated and battled but never came up with a major immigration bill that its members could pass.
Whether the 111th Congress will fare any better remains to be seen.
In the first of what is likely to be many more salvos, a Chicago-area congressman will be touring the Bay Area this weekend, issuing a faith-focused call to make immigration reform a national priority — even as foreclosures, health care and urgent economic troubles vie for President Barack Obama's attention.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, is scheduled to visit St. Anthony's Church in San Francisco tonight as part of a 17-city tour of churches throughout the country.
"The purpose of this is really to have a moratorium on ICE raids and deportations and to have a comprehensive immigration reform," local organizer Lorena Melgarejo, referring to actions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. "Hopefully, to introduce something before the end of the year."
Supporters of competing visions of immigration reform have already described the tour as a farcical attempt to halt successful enforcement measures and drum up support for "amnesty" measures that would allow a path to legal residence for the nation's millions of undocumented immigrants.
"Gutierrez Travels on National Amnesty Tour While U.S. Workers Stand in Unemployment Lines," declared a statement this week from
Any bill to overhaul immigration policy that resembles the one that Gutierrez co-sponsored with Arizona Republican Jeff Flake in 2007 would not fly today anymore than it would have two years ago, said Ira Mehlman, director of the Washington, D.C.-based group. Mehlman believes a new round of immigration bills could be on lawmakers' tables again this autumn.
"If they couldn't convince the American public this was a good idea in 2007 ... it is going to be an awfully hard sell in this economic climate," Mehlman said.
Immigration issues have not dominated national politics in the early days of the Obama administration. Most immigration issues attracting attention in that time have centered around policies from the George W. Bush era.
But the future of a Bush-era strategy that led to heightened immigration raids remains uncertain now that new Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, an Obama appointee, has ordered a review of an ICE factory raid that happened last month in Washington state, reportedly without her knowledge.
Also this week, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, released a report questioning ICE's controversial 287(g) program, which pairs up local law enforcement agencies with federal immigration enforcers. The researchers concluded the program needs better controls so local officers don't hound foreign-looking people with minor offenses.
And among lawmakers, a quieter debate has centered around E-Verify, a federal database program implemented during the Bush administration to help businesses ensure that employees are authorized to work in the United States.
More than 47,000 business sites in California — including East Bay employers ranging from the Ruby Hill Golf Club in Pleasanton to the East Bay Municipal Utility District, KTVU television, Oakland-based Ask.com, Berkeley's Doubletree Hotel and a Burger King on Muir Road in Martinez — have signed up for the federal program, according to a federal database.
"If the person is authorized to work, you're going to know in seconds," said Sharon Rummery, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The program officially expired Friday, but is expected to continue because it is funded through the end of September, Rummery said. Amid concerns about how the program might mismatch names, lawmakers have rejected calls to attach its extension to stimulus measures.
Bigger debates about how the country decides which and how many immigrants to accept each year, and whether to legalize the illegal, could come later.
Gutierrez's rally tour is dubbed "Family Unity," hearkening to the family unification provisions that have been a key element of American immigration policy since the 1950s.
Aides said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is not attending the event. Instead, Melgarejo said Gutierrez will listen to local teenagers who are American citizens but belong to families that have been split up by deportations.
"It's not just undocumented people hurt by deportations and raids. It's the whole fabric," Melgarejo said.
The event will begin at 6 p.m. at St. Anthony's Church, 3215 Cesar Chavez St., in San Francisco.
Reach Matt O'Brien at 925-977-8463 or email@example.com.