SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Jan. 29, 2013 - Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, added force to immigration reform's momentum yesterday in a speech at the National Association of Conservation Districts' Annual Meeting. His remarks came just hours before a group of prominent bipartisan Senators announced their own immigration reform plans on Capitol Hill. Today, President Obama will make his case for reform from Las Vegas.
"If people are here without the proper documentation, it tells you there is something wrong with the system" Cuellar argued, stressing that the nation needs to create "a pathway" to legal immigration without granting broad "amnesty" to those already living here illegally.
Cuellar specifically advocated for a new system with beefed up border security, more efficient ways of gaining legal status ("I'm an attorney…(but) why do we need an attorney" to grant legal immigration status?), and a clear pathway for those living illegally but without further criminal records.
For Cuellar, the subject is personal - the congressman's father came to this country as a legal migrant worker and settled in Laredo, Tx., in the district Cuellar now represents. The United States needs to create "a line of people like my father" with access to legal status, Cuellar said.
The plan unveiled yesterday afternoon by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and John McCain, R-Ariz., echoed parts of Rep. Cuellar's proposal. The senators also advocated for a "pathway to citizenship" by granting temporary legal status to immigrants already here illegally. Furthermore, the senators presented their plans to increase visas for skilled workers and establish employer certification and guest worker programs.
Cuellar also touched upon the farm bill and budgetary issues during his speech. "Those short term extensions I don't like," he said, referring to the last minute extension of the 2008 Farm Bill in the opening days of 2013. "I'd rather have a five year farm deal than have to deal with those extensions," he said, citing the agriculture community's struggle to create sound financial plans for their businesses without an idea of what is to come.
Cuellar served on the House Agriculture Committee from his election in 2004 until the end of the 112th Congress. The congressman now serves on the House Appropriations Committee.