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Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing On Immigration: Do These Wingnuts Still Set the GOP Agenda?

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senate judiciaryThe big event tonight is President Obama’s State of the Union — and the rebuttal from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), as well as the Tea Party rebuttal from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).

But for immigration advocates, the real action begins in the Senate tomorrow morning when the Senate Judiciary Committee holds its first immigration hearing. The momentum is on our side and continues to grow. We’ll hear from a pro-reform lineup of witnesses, who demonstrate the broad and growing level of support for real reform.

The anti-immigrant side, meanwhile, is recycling its Center for Immigration Studies/ICE Union lineup from the House immigration hearing last week (apparently their bench of supporters is not too deep).  And it appears that their approach to tomorrow’s hearing involves calling for the deportation of undocumented, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who will be testifying tomorrow.

In the Senate, there are some pro-reform, “Gang of Eight” Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, including Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). But the panel also includes some of the worst anti-immigrant Senators including:

Chuck Grassley (R-IA, aka The Uber Restrictionist):  The senior Senator from Iowa — and ranking GOP member on the Judiciary Committee — is without a doubt one of the most anti-immigrant politicians, not only in Congress, but in the country. He routinely votes for positions that consistently earn him an “A” grade from groups like the restrictionist NumbersUSA.  He voted no on a 2006 comprehensive immigration reform bill, voted no on a 2007 reform bill, voted for a 2006 amendment prohibiting guest workers from obtaining legal permanent residency. Along with Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Harkin supports repealing the 14th Amendment and doing away with birthright citizenship, a position that makes them both even more anti-immigrant than extremist Lou Dobbs.  These days, he’s dismissing GOP interest in passing immigration reform as mere “pandering“.

Jeff Sessions (R-AL, aka “If it’s good enough for Alabama…”): In 2009,  America’s Voice published a report on Sessions, which noted his ” allies in the anti-immigration movement are confirmed hate groups, originating from the white nationalist mastermind, John Tanton.” Our report can be viewed here. If Sessions had his way, he’d force Alabama’s HB 56 anti-immigrant on the rest of the nation. That law inflicted hardship on immigrants and caused major problems for Alabama’s economy, causing crops to rot in the fields.  He’s also used the claim that immigrants are a burden as an excuse for why we should not pursue immigration reform with a path to citizenship at this time: “You’re not supposed to be admitted to America if you’re likely to be a charge on the public – if you’re going to need government aid to take care of yourself … It [2006 immigration bill] failed because it did not do what it said it would do… End the illegality first.”

John Cornyn (R-TX, aka the Biggest Hypocrite on Immigration): In January of 2011, America’s Voice bestowed our “Biggest Hypocrite on Immigration” award on Cornyn, and he deserved it.  Time and time again, he’s painted himself as an ardent supporter of immigration reform while constantly working to derail the issue and voting the wrong way on it every time a bill comes up.  That’s because he’s basically the most craven kind of politician there is: Latino voters in Texas have grown 63% since 2000 and are the single greatest reason why Texas just gained four House seats. From 2000 to 2010, the Latino population of Texas grew by 42%, generating 65% of the overall population growth in the state during that decade.  Yet while Texas Latinos comprise over 37% of the state’s population, they are underrepresented at the ballot box.  As Gabriel Sanchez, Research Director for Latino Decisions, wrote recently, “There are an estimated 2.1 million Latino eligible voters who are not registered to vote in Texas.”

As we saw in the 2012 elections, Latinos want real progress on immigration reform. Cornyn has talked the talk at them, but he hasn’t walked the walk. He’s been speaking out of both sides of his mouth again recently, demanding “an ongoing focus on security and workplace enforcement before considering steps to grant legal status, let alone citizenship.”

Ted Cruz (R-TX, aka The Biggest Hypocrite on Immigration, Jr.), one of the newest members of the Judiciary Committee, has taken a very hard line against immigration reform. But he’s aware of the changing political dynamics. He told Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker:

If Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community, in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority party in our state…If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes.  The Republican Party would cease to exist.  We would become like the Whig Party.

As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Cruz has a chance to change the anti-immigrant direction for which his party has become infamous. We’ll see if that happens.

And one more:

David Vitter (R-LA, aka Mr. Prosecutorial Discretion): While Vitter is not on the Judiciary Committee, he’s established himself as one of the leading anti-immigrant voices in the GOP caucus. Yes, this is David “DC Madam” Vitter,  who became notorious in 2007 after his phone number turned up in the records of the “DC Madam” escort service.

But the guy has gall. In July 2011, Vitter sponsored a bill called the HALT Act, which sought to block President Obama’s powers of—you guessed it—prosecutorial discretion, as it relates to how the President can set deportation priorities for criminal and non-criminal immigrants. The thing is, after he was busted in his aforementioned scandal, prosecutors chose not to go after him and pursue charges, engaging in an exercise of triage and choice known as prosecutorial discretion.  This “only I can benefit” attitude led to Vitter being chewed out by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who accused Vitter of “hypocrisy to seek to limit the use of discretion when one has enjoyed the benefit himself.”