By Nicole Rojas ( | First Posted: Oct 14, 2013 01:36 PM EDT

(Photo : Latinos Post/Peter Lesser)

Over the past few years, immigration reform has been at the forefront of debates in Congress. In both the Senate and the House of Representatives, members from across the aisle have come together to develop bipartisan bills that would change the lives of over 11 million undocumented immigrants. Some in Congress have worked tirelessly to create a law that would provide a path to citizenship for millions, while others have focused the debate on border security.

In an exclusive interview with Latinos Post, National Council of La Raza (NCLR)’s senior immigration legislation analyst Laura Vazquez discussed the future of immigration reform. Vazquez, who spoke during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Conference earlier this month, also discussed how the debate on comprehensive immigration reform has been put on hold since the government shutdown.

“I work for the National Council of La Raza and we’re a civil rights organization and we certainly see this as a civil rights issue,” Vazquez said. “It’s something that not only impacts the Latino community, the majority of which are U.S. citizens, but it’s an issue that because of the contentious debates that have occurred in the past, have had a devastating impact on the ways Latinos are seen in the country.”

The analyst continued, “We need immigration reform to be passed so that in the public Latinos are seen as part and parcel of this country. We are a growing segment of the country and with immigration reform off the table, I think that the contributions and the positive things that Latinos bring to this country will continue to be recognized.”

While some have been skeptical that Congress members will be able to pass a bill on comprehensive immigration reform, Vazquez said NCLR is “optimistic” that Republicans and Democrats will be able to come together. “We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to see an immigration reform bill pass through the House of Representatives. They will complete the job that the Senate has already done and will get to the president’s desk,” she said.

In June, the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill that would provide a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. The bill, which passed 68 to 32, also increases border security, mandates E-verify to employment procedures, completes a 700-mile border fence and adds to entry-exit systems to track those overstaying their visas, the Huffington Post reported.

“I think that there is certainly enough support in the House of Representatives to get bipartisan immigration reform legislation through,” Vazquez said. “We know that there are already 218 votes needed to pass immigration reform legislation with the path to citizenship in the House. And it’s just a matter of the will of the House leadership to bring that to a vote.”

However, she warned that the bill the House of Representatives passes “may not be the Senate bill,” but rather a modified version of it.

Despite some progress in the debate for comprehensive immigration reform, the government shutdown has stalled talks in the House of Representatives. Vazquez, however, said that some aspects of immigration work have continued. According to Vazquez, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is not being affected by the shutdown because it is fee-funded.

However, she added, “We know, unfortunately, that immigration enforcement actions are going to continue, so even with the government shutdown, we will continue to see 1,100 people deported every day.”

Vazquez stressed the importance of a comprehensive immigration reform law, not only for Latinos but the country as a whole. “From the impact that it has on the ground and communities, where we’re seeing families devastated by our broken immigration system,” Vazquez said to Latinos Post. “Passing legislation that includes a path to citizenship for people to come forward and earn the ability to become a U.S. citizen will not only allow these families stay together and continue their contributions, but it’s also a huge socioeconomic step forward for the Latino community.”

“We will now be able to increase the contributions that we make, both through taxes and through the ability to start new business, buy homes, start jobs, create new jobs in this country,” she continued. “So, it will be a benefit not only to the Latino community but to the country as a whole.”

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