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A bipartisan effort to bring the immigration debate home

Activists recently rallied outside the Capitol to keep the pressure on House GOP members over immigration reform.
Activists recently rallied outside the Capitol to keep the pressure on House GOP members over immigration reform.

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Congress has two more weeks of work before adjourning for the summer. Immigration advocates plan to use the down time to take the debate to the district of individual Republican members. The push begins in California Saturday with a rare bipartisan conversation.

Chicago Democrat Luis Gutiérrez has been on the road the past week, talking immigration reform in Republican Congressional districts in various states.

So far, no GOP members have joined him onstage. But for his stop in Bakersfield, Gutiérrez will  be joined by freshman Republican David Valadao, who acknowledges his colleague's standing: "I mean, he's one of the Group of Seven, so he's been a leader on immigration."

It's actually known as the "Gang of Seven" — a bipartisan group of lawmakers that has been working for months, but still hasn't unveiled its promised comprehensive immigration bill.

Hardline Republicans prefer a series of piecemeal bills. Next week, a House Judiciary subcommittee considers whether undocumented young people brought to the U.S. unlawfully by their parents should be given some kind of legal status — the first time the House GOP has hinted that a path to citizenship for some should be part of immigration reform.

Valadao recognizes the divide in his own district, which is 71 percent Latino: "You've got the extremes. You've got the people who are saying citizenship for all 11 million, and then you've got the people saying no, absolutely not. I think there's a middle ground there."

Valadao's solution: weed out the troublemakers and offer others the chance to become citizens, something his Portuguese immigrant parents enjoyed: "There are going to be some that we're not going to have a problem with having an opportunity to become citizens." He says you want to give everybody the opportunity, "as long as they're good, honest people who just want to be a member of our society and contribute to our communities."

This will be Valadao's first town hall since his election last year, when he won almost 58 percent of the vote in a district where Republicans are only about one-third of registered voters. The stage will be packed with activists who are pushing for a full path to citizenship for all the estimated 11 million undocumented in this country. Participants include religious leaders and union organizers such as Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, whose national headquarters are just outside Valadao's district..

Fellow Congressman Gutiérrez salutes Valadao's courage and says he will be "very well received."

Gutiérrez says you need 218 votes to pass anything in the House, and you get those votes one member at a time. His immigration road show continues through the summer.

Meanwhile, the bipartisan Senators who crafted that chamber's immigration bill are urging business lobbyists to make their case to more than a hundred House GOP members who might vote for a comprehensive bill.

And nearly a hundred of the nation's Catholic university leaders sent letters this week to all 163 Catholic members of Congress — including House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — urging them to pass immigration reform. One line from the letter reads: “We remind you that no human being made in the image of God is illegal.”  

The full House isn't expected to vote on immigration measures until after Labor Day.