U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., urged a standing-room-only crowd Sunday to unite in fighting against South Carolina’s new immigration law during a community forum to raise awareness on the issue.

While in Charleston, the Chicago-area congressman heard community testimony putting down the state’s immigration law, which was scheduled to take effect in January.

One such testimony came from Elizabeth Davis Rios, a white woman and U.S. citizen who said her Hispanic husband has been stopped by police for alleged traffic violations that led to his being considered for deportation.

“We all need to band together and do whatever we can. That way, the government cannot continue to separate families,” Rios said.

The law is now subject to a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit fueled by questions pertaining to its constitutionality.

Gutierrez encouraged the forum’s 400 to 500 attendees to organize themselves against the law by using current federal policies like a deportation memorandum issued by the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton. The memorandum is a guideline on when to use discretion.

“That memorandum should be used (with) discretion immediately. … The number one reason you’re detained and taken to an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facility is a moving traffic violation,” Gutierrez said. “That initiates the process of your deportation, and if that’s all there is, they should simply use their discretion and release you. So people have to learn to use it (the memorandum) and demand that it be used.”

As a leading voice for immigration reform in Congress, Gutierrez is touring the nation urging for the adjustment of deportation policies implemented by the Obama administration that have led to a record number of immigrant deportations.

“For every time you (have) a police officer out writing traffic tickets, you don’t have a police officer going after people that are in gangs and drugs. … You only have so much capacity to deport people and they’ve already maxed out that capacity, so that capacity should be for the deportation of criminals,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Immigration and will participate in an ad hoc hearing in Alabama today to encourage the repeal of that state’s new immigration law.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908.