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CHC Preps for Fall Immigration Debate

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is reaching out to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in an effort to discuss the next steps in advancing comprehensive immigration reform.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who chairs the CHC Immigration Task Force, said on Thursday the caucus is sending a letter to Napolitano asking her to strategize with the 24-member group, which includes Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

The caucus got its first meeting with Napolitano last month during a key immigration meeting at the White House, at which President Barack Obama vowed to tackle comprehensive immigration reform — the No. 1 priority for CHC — this year. Since then, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he will take up the issue in the fall with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) shaping legislation.

Gutierrez said he expects Schumer to produce a draft bill “that we can all rally around— as early as September. From there, Gutierrez said he will offer immigration legislation in the House reflecting the principles in Schumer’s bill and similar to legislation Gutierrez offered in 2007 with Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to take the Flake proposal from two years ago,— Gutierrez said, noting that he will spend the August recess tightening up its legislative language. “It won’t be hard. The language is kind of done.—

Gutierrez said he didn’t know if he and Flake would take the lead on the issue in the House, but he praised Flake for his past support. “Before this moves any further, obviously he’s the first person I’m going to talk to,— Gutierrez said.

During their meeting with Napolitano, which Gutierrez said he hopes will happen before the August recess, CHC members are likely to raise Napolitano’s recent support for E-Verify, a controversial program that has drawn fire from immigration proponents for being discriminatory.

The administration last week announced that, effective immediately, it will only award federal contracts to employers who use E-Verify, which compares data from various federal government databases to ensure a worker’s eligibility under federal immigration laws.

“Many of us are very, very disillusioned with her decision to take a flawed system and to take a Bush administration initiative on immigration and enforcement in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform,— Gutierrez said.

The Illinois Democrat noted that his immigration bill includes an E-Verify provision. But the difference, he said, is that his bill phases it in over eight years so “it can be perfected,— and it is part of comprehensive reform, “which means you won’t have millions of undocumented workers because they’ll all be legalized.—

Gutierrez also directed ire toward the Senate, which mandated E-Verify in its fiscal 2010 Homeland Security spending bill. By contrast, the House reauthorized the program for two years in its Homeland Security bill, but didn’t make it mandatory.

“So when you hear me complain and they spin it from the White House, Well, he’s just a discontent,’ you know why,— added Gutierrez. “I have to continue to raise my voice because they continue doing this stuff.—