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Former Denver Mayor Bill Vidal urges Congress to support immigration reform

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Former Denver Mayor Bill Vidal testifies before Congress on Monday.

DENVER — Former Denver Mayor Bill Vidal, the first foreign-born person elected to the office, urged Congress Monday to support the comprehensive immigration reform proposal put forth by a bipartisan group of eight senators.

The plan, authored in part by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, would open up a 13-year path to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants once additional security measures are put in place along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Vidal told his own personal immigration story: how he came to the U.S. from his native Cuba at the age of four as part of Operation Peter Pan because his parents wanted him to have more opportunities.

“I am fulfilling their American Dream for me,” said Vidal, who spent his career working for the Colorado Dept. of Transportation and as Denver’s Public Works Director before becoming mayor to finish out the final six months of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s second term.

“My personal story represents two great truths about this country: first, that anyone, regardless of their humble beginnings, can become whatever they set their mind to, like the mayor of a large city.

“The second truth is that immigrants make contributions to the success of this country daily, especially when they’re allowed to live out of the shadows, as I’ve been able to do.”

Vidal, who now serves as CEO of the Metro Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, lamented the Congress’s inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform for so long and urged them to support it now.

“Unfortunately, over the years indecisiveness and lack of action on comprehensive immigration reform has resulted in a dysfunction system that I believe has confiscated the respect we once held for immigrants and replaced it with fear and ignorance that has dehumanized the individuals to the point that they’re looked down up as human throw-aways,” Vidal said.

“This comprehensive immigration reform will bring people out of the shadows, which is a good thing; provide a skilled and dedicated workforce that will grow our economy; invite entrepreneurialism and innovation that will create more businesses and jobs; bring in new revenues in the form of taxes that will help us run our country and our government; bring out into the open a group of new consumers that will spur new business growth.”

Last month, FOX31 Denver reported that Vidal has been under consideration to replace outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood; at this point, the White House has yet to name a successor.

Of all of President Obama’s second term priorities, only immigration reform seems to have a real chance of passage, with Republicans, led by party standard bearers of the GOP present and future — Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida are part of the group that drew up the legislation and are leading the push to sell it — suddenly recognizing the importance of making inroads with the nation’s fast-growing Hispanic electorate.

But other Republicans, like Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ted Cruz of Texas, are having a tough time accepting any legislation that includes a path to citizenship and are resisting the impulse to move forward.

“If we pass something on comprehensive immigration reform, and we all know that Washington can screw anything up, it’s going to be pretty close to the legislation we’ve put forward,” Bennet told FOX31 Denver last week.

“This is a balanced, bipartisan bill. And it’s our best chance to make progress on immigration reform in 30 years.”

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