Tempers flared at the The Senate Judiciary Committee on immigration reform. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, kicked off the debate with fireworks, stating, “Let no one be so cruel as to try to use a heinous act… to derail the dreams and future of so many people,” referring to weekend comments about possible delay of immigration reform because of the Boston bombings. ”I urge restraint in that regard,” he remarked.
But there was little restraint between some senators. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) objected when Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) focused his comments on those “who were pointing to what happened — the terrible tragedy in Boston — as, I would say, an excuse for not doing a bill or delaying it many months or years.” Then Grassley shouted, “I never said that. I never said that.” Schumer quickly shouted back “I didn’t say you did, sir.” Grassley insisted he had not said anything about delaying the bill.
Another heated exchange occurred between Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, a strong supporter of the Dream Act and one of the drafters of the Senate reform bill, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the author of SB1070 and other laws restricting immigration in several states. Senator Durbin asked Kobach to get down to “basic values” — should Dreamers like Gaby Pacheco be penalized for being brought to this country illegally by their parents? Kobach responded that while children should not be penalized, they should be treated “neutrally,” and not allowed to “jump ahead” and have an expedited path to citizenship, as the bill proposes. Kobach also said that self-deportation, as seen in Arizona (after some immigrants left after SB1070), had been effective.
Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz — in a preview of the clashes to come while the senators debate the bill — said that in his opinion, there are only two issues that have bipartisan support when it comes to immigration reform. One is securing the borders, and the other is legal immigration. “But no issue is more divisive than a pathway to citizenship,” said Cruz, saying the path to reform should not be “held hostage” by those who advocate legalizing the nation’s undocumented.
While polls show a majority of Americans — as well as business, labor and religious groups — increasingly support comprehensive immigration reform, today’s speakers at the Senate Judiciary hearing still showed the stark differences between groups — as well as Senators — when it comes to the issue.
Most speakers from business, agriculture, technology, religious and immigrants rights sectors spoke today of the need to reform the nation’s current immigration laws. United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez said it’s appropriate that 20 years since the passing of Cesar Chavez, the country is dealing with “the crisis facing American agriculture” and the need to revamp the worker program to give immigrants working in farms the right to fair wages and better conditions, as well as an appropriate labor pool for the nation’s farms.
Former Denver, Colorado Mayor Bill Vidal, a Cuban-American who now heads the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Denver and an immigration reform advocate, said his parents “made an unfathomably courageous sacrifice — I’m fulfilling their American dream.” But Vidal added that the America he grew up in “would never tolerate” the negative attitudes he has seen, with some referring to immigrants as “human throaways,” according to Vidal.
One of the most dramatic testimonies came from Dreamer Gaby Pacheco, who said to the senators, “I am the only one who comes to you as one of the 11 million,” referring to the approximate number of undocumented Americans. Pacheco, who was brought to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was 8, described her “mixed status” family — some citizens, some undocumented, some legal permanent residents — as she urged senators to support immigration reform. “We are part of a strong working class; a mixed status family who are your neighbors, classmates, fellow parishioners, consumers and part of the fabric of this nation.”
Pacheco, speaking to NBC Latino after her testimony, said she will be continuing to lobby for reform, and said she will be focusing on talking to Republicans like Senator Cruz. “My work is to try to bring in not just the human aspect, but the real facts on immigration,” said Pacheco.
“I think we are in a different time — it’s getting harder to vilify immigrants,” added Pacheco. “I think Senator Cruz with his background would understand the case for immigration, and the diversity of the speakers today gives me hope we have the best chance possible to pass reform,” she said.