HARRISONBURG, Va. — The battle over immigration policy in Congress moved briefly to the Shenandoah Valley on Monday as a Chicago Democrat rallied for a path to citizenship in the home district of a key Republican who opposes "amnesty."
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., spoke in the shady and crowded Court Square of downtown Harrisonburg to argue for immigration legislation that ends the threat of deportation for the 11 million who are in the country without permission.
"Hundreds of thousands of husbands and wives have been separated because of our government," Gutierrez said to a diverse crowd that included many families with children. He said the U.S. is approaching 2 million deportations in the last five years. "I want you to think about them. Families have been destroyed."
The event, set up by the left-leaning non-profit group Virginia Organizing, was in the heart of the district of Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte. As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte controls which immigration bills get a vote.
Although he mentioned Goodlatte by name only once — to say that he was not going to say "bad things" about his Republican colleague — Gutierrez blamed the GOP for dismissing the bipartisan compromise that passed the Senate and instead working on bills that are largely Republican-only.
"Everywhere in America people are reaching across the aisle . . . not for a Republican solution or a Democratic solution, but an American solution," Gutierrez said. "The only place people are refusing to compromise and sit down at the table . . . is in the House of Representatives."
Gutierrez invited Goodlatte to attend the rally, but he declined because of a scheduling conflict. Gutierrez said before the Harrisonburg event began that he was on the road to showcase his belief that immigration legislation that includes a path to citizenship has supporters in even the most conservative corners of the country. Some of his events have included joint appearances with Republicans, including Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Gutierrez said his foray into Goodlatte's district should not be considered antagonistic to the committee chairman. Goodlatte offered no criticism of Gutierrez for appearing there.
Delmis Aceituno, 34, of Harrisonburg, held a sign urging Goodlatte to "support immigration reform now."
"I need documents," she said. "I need a better job. I need to take care of my kids."
Goodlatte's district is about 4% Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau.
"This is a friendly city," said Maria Péna of Harrisonburg, who helped organize the invitation for Gutierrez. "We're always open to issues that touch on human rights and civil rights."
Goodlatte is one of the Republicans working on legislation to give some young people a chance at legal status, but it has not been introduced yet. His committee so far has focused on border security, employment verification, improving the legal immigration system and providing for guest workers.
Earlier on Monday, Gutierrez attended a similar event in Chantilly, Va., in the district of another Republican lawmaker, Rep. Frank Wolf.
Gutierrez uses campaign funds — not money from his official House office budget — to attend immigration events outside of his Chicago district, according to spokesman Douglas Rivlin.