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Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), one of the most anti-immigrant members of the Senate, encountered some of his pro-immigration reform constituents yesterday, at a fish fry the Senator held in northern Alabama. Here’s the story, highlighting parts of the exchange between a young pro-immigration advocate named Mayra Rangel and Sen. Sessions. From the al.com blog:
“Sir, you may have noticed that there are a number of us here tonight who are Latinos,” said [Mayra] Rangel. “Sir, we come wanting to ask you for help for our families that you might help our families who want to find a way to make the immigration system better for us. Our lives are depending on this. We want to keep our families together and we need help,” said Rangel, who lives in Blount County.
Rangel’s words hung in the air waiting for Sessions to reply. He did.
“Let me ask you, don’t you think we should have an immigration system that follows the law?” Sessions asked Rangel. Before she could answer, Sessions said, “I believe the U.S. should have a lawful system of immigration and it should serve the national interest, not special interest, not big business interest, not agricultural interest.”
Then Rangel broke in.
“But what about the interest of families?” she said. “Latinos are suffering, sir. We need something to fix immigration. We are asking you to help our families stay together so we can stay a part of our community and our country. America is our country now too.”
A woman sitting at a nearby table shouted out to Rangel that she and her family had come to America illegally. Before she could say more, Sessions cut her off.
“I know this is important to a lot of people. It’s important to me,” said Sessions, who was at the end of a long day visiting towns and cities across north Alabama. “But, I do not think that those who come into the country illegally should get every benefit the nation has to offer just because they are here. I do not feel a moral or legal obligation to allow those who entered illegally to benefit from breaking the law,” added Sessions as the 70 or so whites in the audience applauded.
Regal raised her voice over the applause.
“So, you are going to destroy our families?” she said to Sessions.
Sessions shook his head no.
“No, we’re going to debate this, struggle through this issue to find answers.”
A second woman, Rosa Calderon of Harvest, rose to confront Sessions.
“Senator, I came to America when I was just six year old,” Calderon said. “I had no choice. I went to school here. I was raised here. I’m as American as American can be. I love this country as do Latinos across this country. But you are saying because someone made a mistake years ago, a mistake in your eyes but in their eyes it was not a mistake because they were trying to find a better life for their families, you are saying you do not get a second chance?”
Again, Sessions was shaking his head no.
“We need to reestablish the rule of law,” said Sessions. “People can’t break the law and then demand the rights of citizenship.”
Again the non-Latino part of the audience applauded. Sessions raised his hand waving off the applause.
“To our friends, I know this is a tough issue,” said Sessions looking directly at the white table cloth covered tables where the Latinos sat. “We need to be compassionate with one another. But, our citizens have been pleading with their government for 20 or 30 years to fix this problem and their government – Democrats and Republicans – have not solved the problem.”
Advocates have video of the encounter–stay tuned.