12/02/2011 12:37 pm ET | Updated Dec 02, 2011

Luis Gutierrez: Undocumented Immigrants Should Carry Documents Proving Ties To U.S.

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) urged undocumented immigrants on Friday to carry copies of documents that can prove their strong ties to the United States, such as high school transcripts, marriage certificates to U.S. citizens, and U.S.-born children's birth certificates.

"The local cops are still going to get you for driving without a license, or not coming to a complete stop, or simply making up that your taillight was out," he said at a press conference. "But when they take you to Secretary [Janet] Napolitano's officers at ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], what should happen is that you should show them that you have strong ties and when they run your record and it shows you have no criminal history, you should be allowed to go free right there and then."

Gutierrez, a longtime supporter of immigration reform, recently visited Alabama and South Carolina to see the impact of their immigration enforcement laws firsthand. During the Alabama visit last week, a group of House Democrats heard from residents, including undocumented immigrants, about their experiences with the law.

Both state legislatures passed laws that, like Arizona's S.B. 1070, allow police to inquire about immigration status during stops, should they "reasonably suspect" the individual is an undocumented immigrant. The Department of Justice sued both states, along with Arizona and Utah, to block the states' immigration laws on the grounds that they preempt federal authority over immigration. Nearly 40 House Democrats signed an amicus brief last week in support of the lawsuit against Alabama's H.B. 56.

But some House Democrats want to see the Obama administration do more to block these laws in states. When Napolitano meets with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus next week, Gutierrez said he plans to ask her whether the government is deporting people arrested under the Alabama law.

"They cannot on one hand fight against the legislation ... and on the other hand deport the very people who are victimized by that law," he said. "There has to be some consistency in how it is we look at the law."

In the meantime, he said undocumented immigrants should be sure they can prove ties to the United States that might make them eligible for prosecutorial discretion. Under an Obama administration policy announced on Aug. 18, some 300,000 deportation cases will be reviewed with the aim of closing those deemed low priority.

Undocumented immigrants who are related to military service members, have U.S. citizen spouses or children, who came to the country when they were younger than 18, or are elderly or disabled may be allowed to stay under the policy, as long as they do not have a criminal record.

To prove they could benefit from that policy, undocumented immigrants around the country could carry or keep available records of their spouses and children, including documents proving they are related to someone in the military, Gutierrez said.

The congressman knows from past experience that proving strong ties to the United States can help undocumented immigrants get out of detention. Gutierrez helped a South Carolina man named Gabino Sanchez get released by immigration authorities this week.

Sanchez was picked up by police for a traffic violation and found to be in the country illegally. He was able to prove, with Gutierrez's help, that he had entered the United States as a child, had a citizen wife and children and had no previous arrest record.

Sanchez was released, but he remains in deportation proceedings.

House Democrats said they will continue to fight the Alabama immigration law, although they acknowledged that the best solution, comprehensive immigration reform, is likely impossible during this congressional session.

"Looking at the chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I doubt very much that we will see the reform that's necessary in this Congress," Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Immigration Subcommittee, said at the press conference. "In the meanwhile, [we should] make sure that the Constitution is applied. The laws are unconstitutional."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said that Gutierrez made his remarks on Wednesday, rather than Friday. The error has been corrected.