All eyes were on U.S Rep Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) as he spoke to members of the community about the need for immigration reform on Tuesday.
The meeting, held at the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, was set in an open forum discussion and members of the community were given the opportunity to express their concerns, questions and qualms with the country's immigration issue.
Denham, unlike many of his House counterparts, has evolved his stance on immigration over the years, even praising the comprehensive legislation that was passed by the Senate last month.
“The Senate bill won’t get a vote in the House, and it’s something that could have helped this community,” Denham said.
The House has yet to put forth any sort of comprehensive bill that could make citizenship a possibility to those immigrants illegally living in the U.S. Denham expressed frustration over the lack of progress made on the bill, stating that he didn't have an answer to why a possible bill hasn’t been put on the floor yet.
“I’m frustrated,” said Denham. “I thought we would get this done by now.”
Denham said he has met with the “gang of seven,” the House bipartisan group who is responsible for drafting the immigration bill. Yet, despite the meetings and his approval of the current writing, Denham was reluctant to give a definitive date of the bill's proposal.
“I continue to hear timelines and, unfortunately, I have not seen it print today,” said Denham. “Even though I have sat down, viewed the documents, and I know that it’s a bill that is supportable by a good number of the House.”
One of the bigger issues that was brought to the table was how the Congressman would support paths for citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal residents. Last month, Denham proposed the ENLIST Act, a bill that would allow eligible illegal residents to become citizens pending military service.
Denham, who himself served in the military, said the act was just one of the possible ways that the country could offer a road to citizenship for those seeking it.
“A pathway to citizenship means so much to so many different people,” said Denham. “My bill to allow kids that were brought by no fault of their own to serve in the military is a pathway to citizenship."
The Congressman also asked farmers at the meeting about the current guest worker program that allows farm workers to come to the states to work in the country's agricultural industry.
In California, an estimated 73 percent of the agricultural workforce is comprised of illegal workers. Denham said the need for a labor force is something that can’t go ignored.
Ruben Villalobos, a Modesto based attorney and candidate for the Modesto school board, disagreed with Denham stating that “there is no just thing as a good guest worker program.”
“From slavery to modern day we’ve had a guest worker program,” said Villalobos.
Despite the exchange of rhetoric from opposing schools of thought, the atmosphere remained cool at the meeting and was indicative that Denham’s evolving stances on immigration is garnering support from his hometown constituents.
Although the House has not proposed a bill yet, Denham stated that he was optimistic about the future of the legislation and that he would do what he can to see that some progress is made.
“We’re getting there,” said Denham. “..but I would just like to see a better process."