DENVER — Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is urging the U.S. House to take up legislation to reform the U.S. immigration system this year despite the recent paralysis in Washington.
The Democrat is one of eight U.S. senators who crafted a bill to create a lengthy path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally while strengthening security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bennet told the Inter American Press Association in Denver on Sunday that he is confident the House and Senate can reach a compromise this year on immigration reform — despite the partisan paralysis shown in the recent government shutdown.
Bennet urged the reform movement's backers — ranging from chambers of commerce to farmers and unions to religious organizations— to keep pushing for a final package. And he insisted that immigration reform is a non-partisan issue.
"We didn't view ourselves as working on a compromise in creating a pathway to citizenship and securing the border," Bennet said of his and his Senate colleagues' work. "In Washington, it is seen as a compromise, Democrats versus Republicans."
The bipartisan "Gang of Eight" members pushed their immigration reform bill through the Senate in June. It establishes a lengthy process to securing U.S. citizenship involving background checks, fines and a requirement to learn English. It would expand the highly skilled worker program and set up new guest worker arrangements for lower-skilled workers and farm laborers.
It also allocates billions of dollars to hire thousands more border patrol agents, extend construction of a border fence, and increase aerial reconnaissance including the use of drones.
"The House of Representatives, if they can hear the voices of people who are rational on this issue, can improve this bill," Bennet said.
"What we can't do is not allow the House not to act. It's just too important."
Some Republicans view support for immigration reform as central to the party's national viability given the growing political power of Hispanics. But many House GOP lawmakers representing conservative — and largely white — districts see little incentive to back legislation.
The Miami-based Inter American Press Association has about 1,400 member news organizations and promotes press freedoms throughout the Americas. It is holding its 69th general assembly in Denver.