DENVER — Nearly 100 Latinos packed into a small North Denver restaurant Friday afternoon to see Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, making his first sales pitch to constituents in support of the bipartisan outline for comprehensive immigration reform that was introduced in Washington earlier this week.
The crowd cheered Bennet, a Democrat, for fulfilling a campaign commitment to focus on this issue — but some also asked him tough questions about the proposal he helped craft, especially the idea of making a path to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented people contingent on strengthening border security and immigration enforcement measures.
“This broken immigration system has destroyed families across the state,” Julie Gonzales told Bennet inside 5th Sun Cafe and Lounge. “You have to ask the question: at what point is enough enforcement enough.”
Bennet, who made a point of singling out the Republican senators with whom he and other Democrats have collaborated on the immigration reform framework, told the crowd that lawmakers in Washington are attempting to strike a very difficult balance.
“What we’re trying to do is find the balance that will let this pass through the Senate and the House, the Republican House of Representatives,” Bennet said.
The crowd cheered Bennet as he explained that the proposal would put undocumented students, brought here by their parents, on an accelerated path to citizenship.
But other questions from the crowd about the longer pathway for adults and the uptick in deportations under the Obama administration underscored a wider frustration within the Latino community, which has delivered Democrats numerous political victories, and the underlying expectation that elected officials like Bennet put their community’s desires ahead of any eagerness to strike a compromise.
“We know the democratic process of making legislation is never clean, it’s always messy,” said Ricardo Martinez. “And if we pass some policy, no one’s going to be happy with all the results. What we want is for the policy not to do harm.”
Bennet told reporters after the meeting that he anticipates this will be a lengthy process and that the final legislation likely will be different than the current framework. But he believes the general agreement is a good one.
“I think what people are going to see is that these pieces work pretty well together. Not just politically, but substantively,” Bennet said,
“There’s a lot of twists and turns to come.But I think this is our best chance in 20 years to deal with something that is dragging our economy backward.”