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As a general rule: there is no reason, ever, for a member of Congress to ask a question at a hearing of the witness from the Center for Immigration Studies. (And there’s always a witness from the Center for Immigration Studies.) But this exchange, led by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, is definitely the exception to the rule — and is probably the best moment from today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that didn’t involve Jose Antonio Vargas.
The exchange starts with Blumenthal asking CIS witness Jessica Vaughan — who had had no questions directed to her over the course of the hearing — what, exactly, her objections are to citizenship, and what could overcome those concerns. She starts out by pretending to be reasonable (apparently CIS doesn’t have the courage to call for someone’s arrest when they’re sitting next to him instead of tweeting at him), claiming “the pathway itself is not necessarily the issue.” But after she tries to use the tired, false claim that the American people don’t want immigrants to be eligible for citizenship, Blumenthal calls her bluff — asking whether, if it turned out the public did support a path to citizenship, that would be all right. Vaughan apparently can’t handle this possibility. Her response is a jumble of all the hardcore antis’ favorite talking points: “attrition through enforcement” i.e. self-deportation, “immigrants take arr jerbs!”, and opposition to raising legal immigration. The only thing she successfully communicates is that, her previous posturing aside, she and CIS are not actually reasonable negotiators, and there is nothing anyone could do to persuade them that citizenship would be a good idea.
But then (around 2:50 in the video), having let his opponent destroy herself, Blumenthal turns the moment into a proclamation that the American people welcome immigration reform, and it gets downright uplifting.
Blumenthal doesn’t actually explain that the public already supports a path to citizenship — overwhelmingly. But that’s not even the point. As the immigration reform debate has unfolded this year, one of the most striking themes is the contrast Blumenthal draws here: the antis are “very pessimistic” about America and Americans, but supporters know “we are in a different time” and “this moment is historic.” To the antis, there will never be any workable solution to the broken immigration system; the American people aren’t ready for citizenship for the undocumented; and Americans-by-birth and Americans-in-waiting can’t be trusted to come together and integrate like previous generations. Those of us who support a pathway to citizenship, by contrast, know that the hard work of building a cultural consensus has already been done — America is showing Congress how to lead on immigration, and the only question is whether Congress will return the favor.
It’s a pretty sweet realization. And it’s all the sweeter when it comes as a smackdown to one of the hateriest haters we know.