Voto Latino Co-Chair actor Wilmer Valderrama speaks during the unveiling of the “I’m Ready for Immigration Reform” campaign. (Photo/Getty Images)

Diverse group unites to push for immigration reform

As the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” get ready to unveil their bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill tomorrow, Voto Latino’s Maria Teresa Kumar announced the “I’m Ready for Immigration Reform” campaign, supported by a coalition of business, civil rights and youth organizations including Rock the Vote,  the NAACP, the Human Rights Campaign, the March for Innovation, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA).

“We’re in a place in Washington where we are working together as Americans across the aisle,” said Voto Latino’s Maria Teresa Kumar, who stressed that the campaign will focus on ensuring that legislators pass immigration reform legislation that ensures two things – a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented, and a policy which stresses family reunification.

Members of the “I’m Ready for Immigration Reform” and pro-immigration reform legislators who jointed the press conference stressed different reasons for supporting the legislation, which will be vigorously debated in the next few weeks and months in Congress.

RELATED: Poll: 9 out of 10 undocumented Latinos would pursue citizenship

“Beyond emotion, we must consider economics,” said Javier Palomares, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Immigrant businesses generate 775 billion dollars every single year, and one out of every ten Americans is employed by an immigrant-owned company,” he added.  March for Innovation’s Jeremy Robbins said that in New York City, almost half – 48 percent – are owned by immigrants.

Speaking about border security, an issue which many legislators consider to be a precondition to approving any path to citizenship or meaningful reform, Democratic California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez said the government had increased border guards from 5,000 to almost 25,000, “as well as built fences and have other systems in place so we understand who is coming the wrong way.”

Sanchez, whose parents immigrated from Mexico, also said that for those who question whether immigrants come here to work, “my Mom and Dad are the only Mom and Dad to have two daughters in the U.S. Congress; think about that,” Sanchez said.

And California Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, stated that when it came to endorsing immigration reform, “I was ready the moment I was born, as the son of immigrants…The only question is if my colleagues behind me (pointing to the Capitol building) are ready,” he added.

RELATED: Voto Latino’s Teresa Kumar: Majority of Americans want a path to citizenship 

Becerra did say there was not “much space” between the bipartisan Senate and House groups working on immigration reform.  But in an interview with NBC Latino today, Texas Democratic Congressman Joaquín Castro talked about what could happen in the House after the immigration bills are introduced.

“There will be push back by the right-wing of the Republican party who support neither gun control or immigration, and they will be pushing mostly on Speaker Boehner not to do both these things.  It’s  important we keep the public pressure, and that the American people continue to speak out to make sure we can get both of these done,” said Congressman Castro.

Speaking this weekend on the issue, Florida Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who is reportedly part of a bipartisan group working on immigration in the House, expressed cautious optimism.   “It won’t be easy, but I’m very optimistic precisely because of the work of our small bipartisan group,” said Diaz-Balart. “I think we have found a solution in the center that resolves the problem and has the 218 votes.”

Like Diaz-Balart, Congressman Castro also believes the House could reach a majority in favor of an immigration bill – as long as Speaker Boehner does not employ the Hastert rule.  This means a bill can only be approved if a majority of the majority party – in this case Republicans, who control the House – vote in favor.
In the meantime, the members of  the “I’m Ready for Immigration Reform” campaign will do Public Service Announcements, draw petitions, and visit members of Congress, according to Maria Teresa Kumar.
Voto Latino co-chair Wilmer Valderrama said it was frustrating “that a generation has grown up thinking immigration is negative,” the actor said. “The word immigration is the biggest gift this country has ever had.”
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