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Pathway to citizenship likely to be rocky

Those planning to lobby in D.C. for overhaul of immigration rules will face some lawmakers with long-standing positions against a legalization program.

February 18, 2013|By Brian Bennett
  • Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, right, attends a session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Just because you are a wonderful person doesn’t mean you deserve to be an American citizen,” he said in an interview.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, right, attends a session of the House Foreign Affairs… (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated…)

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — When Jessica Bravo came here this month to talk to her congressman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), about expanding rights for illegal immigrants, their meeting ended in a shouting match and tears.

Bravo, an 18-year-old community college student at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, was smuggled over the border from Mexico by her parents when she was 3. She recently joined hundreds of other young illegal immigrants in a campaign to confront members of Congress and ask them to vote for a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.

"I just wanted him to know who I was," Bravo said of Rohrabacher, who has a long record of voting against such measures.

In the scheduled meeting with Rohrabacher, Bravo said the congressman stiffened when she said she and her parents came to the U.S. unlawfully. Five minutes into the meeting, Rohrabacher's face turned red, she said, adding that he said he represents citizens and hates illegals.

Rohrabacher disputed her account and said the meeting became heated when a community organizer with Bravo implied he was racist.

"I don't hate anyone," Rohrabacher said in a telephone interview. "Just because you are a wonderful person doesn't mean you deserve to be an American citizen."

Over the next few months, hundreds of illegal immigrants are planning to come to Washington to push for an overhaul of immigration laws. Despite signs that GOP leaders want to change the party's approach to the issue, many of the immigrants will face lawmakers who have long-standing positions against a legalization program.

"We will engage them regardless of their voting record," said Maria Fernanda Cabello, a national organizer for United We Dream, an organization that represents young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. unlawfully as children.

The organization's members last fall voted to expand its mission beyond passing the Dream Act and decided to push for the broader objective of making it possible for illegal immigrants to become citizens. In March, the group is planning to launch protests in 23 states under the slogan "Eleven Million Dreams."

"We will keep including our parents," said Cabello, whose mother works at a fast-food restaurant in Houston and whose father is a welder. Both are undocumented. Cabello, who came to Texas with her parents when she was 12, was granted a legal work permit in the fall under the Obama administration's "deferred action" program.

"All they are saying is, 'My dream is based on my mom and my dad and my family,'" said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who plans to join rallies in New Jersey, Florida, Texas and California in March to push for full citizenship for such residents.

Dozens of organizations that represent illegal immigrants have come together to declare March "National Coming Out of the Shadows Month." Protests are planned for next month in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City and Atlanta.

Groups of lawmakers from both parties in the House and the Senate are working behind closed doors to hammer out a bill. A bipartisan group of eight senators has agreed that citizenship must be part of the solution, along with more investment in border security. In the House group, however, some Republicans are considering a program that would legalize illegal immigrants without creating a new way for them to become citizens.

"The people that came here illegally knowingly — I don't think they should have a path to citizenship," Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said during a radio interview earlier this month. Labrador, one of two members of the House from Idaho, has been working with the House group to draw up legislation.

"That is not going to fly with us," said Louie Cortes, a 24-year-old law student at the University of Idaho. Cortes was brought to the U.S. unlawfully from Mexico by his parents when he was 1 year old. He was given a work permit in December.

The Idaho agricultural industry relies on illegal immigrants for a lot of its workforce, said Cortes, who is a member of the Dream Bar Assn., an organization of law students who are illegal immigrants. Over the next few weeks, Cortes plans to help organize workers in apple orchards, dairy farms and meat processing plants to launch public rallies in the state.

"Not having the full pathway to citizenship will still deny a lot of immigrants the benefits of being here — like voting," said Cortes.

brian.bennett@latimes.com

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