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Senate Jump-Starts Immigration Debate as Poll Shows Record Support for Real Reform

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Sen Chuck Shumer (D-NY)Yesterday’s Schumer-led Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, which followed on the heels of the President’s press conference, placed immigration squarely on the map. It stands as yet another clear sign post that immigration reform is moving forward, as new polling shows a whopping sixty-one percent of Americans now favor a “pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.”

A key take-away from the day was the credibility and authority with which a distinguished panel of witnesses, including Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan and Pastor Joel Hunter, spoke in favor of real, comprehensive reform, in stark contrast to the one markedly anti-reform witness. Notoriously anti-immigrant Kris Kobach, a Professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, who also works with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), used the opportunity to throw around buzzwords like “Amnesty” and “illegal alien criminals,” and rail against real solutions.

It was clear that the solution-free, mass-deportation testimony didn’t hold much water before the assembled crowd.

What did hold weight was testimony by Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, who stated:

“There is little doubt that unauthorized, that is, illegal, immigration has made a significant contribution to the growth of our economy” and implored that “our immigration laws must be reformed and brought up to date.”

EliseoAlso testifying was Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who highlighted the benefits of reform for American workers through the establishment of a fair and level employment market, stating,

We have to finally address our broken immigration system. The status quo is simply unacceptable and works only to the benefit of those who break the rules. That is why the two largest workers organizations in the country – the Change to Win federation and the AFL-CIO – have come together around a unified proposal for comprehensive immigration reform that consists of five components, each of which depends on the others for success.

Montgomery County, MD Police Chief Thomas Manger, also the Chairman of the Major Cities Chiefs Association’s Legislative Committee, noted the community safety benefits of the federal government taking back the reins of leadership on immigration policy.  Noting the strain and ineffectiveness of the 287(g) program, Manger argued:

“The overwhelming majority of major-city police agencies have elected not to participate in 287(g) training.  In fact, the last figures I’ve seen indicate that over 95% of police and sheriffs departments in the U.S. have elected not to participate in the 287(g) training- primarily because it undermines the trust and cooperation with immigrant communities that are essential elements of community policing. We need to have strong policies that take into full account the realities of local law enforcement. One of those realities is that public safety increases when people have trust and confidence in their police department. Delivering fair and consistent police service to all crime victims has to be a priority.”

Pastor Joel Hunter, a prominent evangelical leader, made a compelling moral case for immigration reform, saying:

The hope of any religion is that those who have been on the wrong path can be set upon the right path. The need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform is to create a path that will help people do the right thing. A broken system produces a dysfunctional society, fractured families, and it increases the vulnerability of both legal and illegal residents. It helps criminals who thrive in the shadows and it harms decent people, consigning them to a life of insecurity, hiding, and minimal contribution to the general welfare. A broken system produces both broken and crooked people. The cost to our nation in terms of productivity, national unity, and national security is depressing. But it does not compare to the damage being done to individuals and families

With the new polling released yesterday, President Obama’s renewed pledge on immigration, and this week’s hearing, it’s clear the American people want action and solutions on the big issues before us, not excuses for inaction and mere finger-pointing.

UPDATE: video reactions from witnesses at the hearing.


Doris Meissner, Senior Fellow at the Migration Policy Institute:


Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU):


Wade Henderson, President & CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Photos and video by Maria Ponce. View more photos from the hearing on Flickr.