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House Judiciary Hearings This Week Find Consensus, Support for Immigration Reform and Legalization

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The House Judiciary Committee held two hearings today, on two different topics (agriculture and E-Verify), yet the takeaway was the same: immigration reform must happen as soon as possible, and must include a path to citizenship.

During Tuesday’s agriculture hearing, businesses and farmworkers found potential for an agreement on legalization, with several participants agreeing on the need for a roadmap to citizenship for current undocumented farmworkers.  At one point, Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL) asked one of the agribusiness representatives why immigrant farmworkers often labored harder than native-born Americans; the witness replied “because they want to achieve the American Dream.”

Giev Kashkooli, the Third Vice President of the United Farm Workers of America, highlighted principles for a future free market program that would truly free workers from having to stay with a single employer—a key way to avoid farmworker abuses—tie the number of visas to the needs of the market, give farmworkers strong and equal labor rights, and provide a roadmap to citizenship.  The UFW seeks to ensure that immigration reform will improve the wages and working conditions of all farmworkers.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a longtime champion of immigration reform, bent over backwards to praise the panel of witnesses present.  As he said (and later released a statement reiterating):

I’ve been here 20 years, and I have never seen a panel put together like the one that we have before us, that has been put together by the Republican majority with invitations from the Democratic minority, in which I have to say that in each and every instance, all of the witnesses—I’m able to share values, I’m able to share perspectives with you, I’m able to sympathize, I’m able to say ‘That’s how I think.’ Now, I think that bodes well for finding a solution to a problem. So I just want to say to all four of the witnesses—so, Mr. Gowdy, I want to congratulate you, and I want to say the first set of witnesses that we had, from the STEM industry, was very much the same…I think that’s part of the magic of the moment in which we live.

Yesterday’s hearing on E-Verify was similarly focused on legalization, with testifying witnesses agreeing that E-Verify could become a part of federal law—but emphasizing that it would only be truly effective alongside immigration reform that included legalization.

“Any mandatory electronic employment eligibility verification regime should, at a minimum, address these concerns, and must be coupled with a broad legalization program,” said Emily Tulli, policy attorney for the National Immigration Law Center.

“The US Chamber remains committed to advocating for reform to fix our broken immigration system, and believes that a workable and reliable employment verification system is only one part of necessary immigration reforms,” said Randel K. Johnson, Senior Vice President for Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits at the US Chamber of Commerce.

“I and my association support comprehensive immigration reform,” said Chris Gamvroulas, President of Ivory Homes.

Congressional Republicans should take note.  The two Judiciary Committee hearings this week (as Rep. Gutierrez noted) featured panels put together by Republicans (with Democratic input).  And while the two hearings looked at different aspects of immigration reform separately, the picture that emerged was that there is only one solution: full immigration reform with a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.  Legalization—with a path to citizenship—is the central part of immigration reform, and Congress can’t address any aspect of reform successfully unless they can bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.  If the House Republicans come out of these hearings thinking that they can address immigration reform one issue at a time (or with half-measures), they’re not listening to the very witnesses they’ve just invited to educate them.