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Senate Judiciary Committee Discusses Immigration Policy From Perspective Of Actual Immigrant Families

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hironoIt’s a shame that Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) showed up to bully the witnesses of today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the needs of women and families in immigration reform, because, as our own mothers always used to say, the worst thing you can do for a bully is give him the attention he wants. So let’s turn our attention to the real stars of the hearing: immigrant women and families themselves. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who chaired the hearing, started the afternoon by telling her own immigration story and praising her mother’s bravery in secretly bringing her and her brother here for a better life; immigrant mother Mee Moua (of the Asian-American Justice Center)  and daughter of immigrants Ai-Jen Poo (of the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance) placed the stories and experiences of the immigrant women their organizations represent at the centerpiece of their testimony; and Jennifer Ng’andu of NCLR made a powerful argument for genuinely welcoming immigrant families by allowing them the economic security they need to contribute to their communities.

A few lessons that we hope the Senate keeps in mind as the debate over immigration reform unfolds:

Lack of immigration reform hurts immigrant families, citizen children, and American values. Anyone who thinks that “immigration reform including a path to citizenship for the 11 million” and “immigration reform that is in the best interest of Americans” are somehow mutually exclusive (ahem, Jeff Sessions) should read this story from Ai-jen Poo:

I had the opportunity recently to visit a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, where women who’d been deported end up as they try to figure out what happened to their children after they’ve been deported. And I met a woman who was still holding the shirt that she was trying to put on her 2-year-old son as she was separated, detained, and deported. And it took her weeks to figure out what happened to her child. And if you can imagine the pain that she felt, and imagine what that child—that 2-year-old child felt—as he watched and witnessed as his mother was separated from him indefinitely…Families belong together. Children need their parents. And families need one another.

Immigration reform must respect the diversity of families. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) told the story of a man who had petitioned for his teenage son to join him in America—only to find that after a few years of waiting, the son had hit the age of 21 and been shuffled into a visa category where he would have to wait decades more to be reunited with his father. And Mee Moua told of the struggles her father had gone through during decades of trying to reunite with his siblings in France. Many of the witnesses stressed that Congress should not be picking and choosing who counts as “nuclear family” and who does not (or refusing to acknowledge the equality of same-sex couples)—because, as Moua said, “when you contemplate a long-term home, and setting root, you want your family to be around you,” not just parts of it.

For immigration reform to succeed, the path to citizenship must be genuinely inclusive. Ai-jen Poo’s testimony pointed out several ways domestic workers, in particular, could be excluded from a path to citizenship if Congress isn’t careful. For example, workers who work in the “informal” economy are unlikely to have official documents proving who they worked for and when. (Several more examples of these are included in our backgrounder “The Who And How Of An Inclusive Pathway To Citizenship.”) As Sen. Hirono said, what’s most important is to allow the undocumented some flexibility in how they meet requirements for legal status and eventual citizenship, to allow the full undocumented population to come out of the shadows and address the injustice once and for all.