01/17/2013 03:58 pm ET Updated Jan 17, 2013

Carlos Gutierrez Open To Immigration Reform In Pieces

WASHINGTON -- Prominent conservative supporters of immigration reform said Thursday that they are committed to a set of principles on the issue but don't much care how Congress gets to its end point, including whether a comprehensive bill is used or if a specific pathway to citizenship is included in a final bill.

All of the speakers at a press conference hosted by the National Immigration Forum said they believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed to eventually become citizens. As to how it gets done, they're pretty open to suggestions, such as one from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would allow undocumented immigrants to become citizens eventually but without a special pathway.

"We support immigration reform, we support something that can get passed," former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez said. "We're not going to second-guess people as long as they're making progress."

Gutierrez is one of many Republicans and conservatives who have amplified their push for immigration reform in the wake of the 2012 election. Five of them -- Gutierrez, Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, Indiana Attorney General Gregory Zoeller (R), Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention and Johnny Young of the Conference of Catholic Bishops -- spoke in Washington Thursday to urge comprehensive reform.

The biggest questions, though, were over how the men aligned with other reform supporters. Democrats have urged a comprehensive approach, with the White House warning that Congress could pass some of the less contentious measures of immigration reform and then skip over others, such as a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country.

Another major divide between the parties is over whether that pathway should exist at all, a piece that is deemed absolutely necessary to most Republicans. The panel praised Rubio for his ideas on immigration and his leadership, although not specifically endorsing them as the right path. Donohue said he suspects reform will include a "series of steps" to citizenship, but that it can be worked out later.

"This issue doesn't bother me or worry me one bit," he said. "If we get to the point where we have a program to deal with immigration in this country in a fundamental way, we'll resolve that question."

Donohue said he also doesn't think it's a problem that Republicans have said they want a piecemeal approach, although he sees many advantages to immigration reform in a comprehensive bill. He said he and his staff are often in touch with the labor group AFL-CIO, and he met earlier in the day with organization President Richard Trumka. If their groups can come to some sort of consensus, it bodes well for Congress, Donohue said.

"I believe we ought to just move forward on all of the arrangements so that ... we'll develop an understanding of all of these issues and then finally decide whether we'll do it in one, two or three pieces," he said. "That is the least of our worries, the fact is that they do it. For us, we'll continue to talk about a comprehensive bill."

Gutierrez, a founder of super PAC Republicans for Immigration Reform, gave a similar remark when asked whether a bill should be comprehensive. The final details of the super PAC are still being sorted out, but it should be able to lend politicians cover to "come out and admit that they are for immigration reform," Gutierrez said.

"We had a 750-page bill, a comprehensive approach [in 2007], and it was dismissed by one word: amnesty," he said. "That's the trap of these large, comprehensive, very complex bills. Having said that, I think it's a tactical issue and I hope it's resolved as soon as possible because there are so many other, bigger things that have to be addressed."



10 Major U.S. Federal Immigration Laws