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Senate Immigration Hearing Shows Momentum for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

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Last week’s Senate subcommittee hearing on immigration offered highlighted the pressing need for comprehensive immigration reform and the continued momentum behind enacting a sensible policy that works for all Americans. 

Under the chairmanship of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the U.S. Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Citizenship heard from expert witnesses who made compelling economic, community safety, and values-based appeals for immigration reform last Thursday, April 30th.  Meanwhile, Ranking Member Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)’s choice of witnesses reflected the continued schism in the Republican Party between moderate voices of reason, such as Jeff Moseley, President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, and anti-immigrant extremists, such as Kris Kobach, a Professor at the University of Missouri (Kansas City) School of Law, who compared the undocumented population to thieves during the hearing. 

“The Senate hearing kicked off one of this year’s highest stakes policy debates and put down a clear marker that immigration reform is on its way,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “It was also notable to contrast the practical and solutions-oriented perspective offered by the pro-reform witnesses and Members with the ‘can’t do’ mentality of the mass-deportation crowd in attendance.  The American people want action and solutions on the big issues before us, not excuses for inaction and continued finger-pointing,” he continued.

Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan stated in his testimony that “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.” Eliseo Medina, International Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 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, who is also the Chairman of the Major Cities Chiefs Association’s Legislative Committee, noted the community safety benefits of the federal government retaking the reins of leadership on immigration policy.  Manger stated “Perhaps the most significant reason to enact comprehensive immigration reform is to allow police departments all over this nation to get out from being placed squarely in the middle of a huge problem that with which we have little to no control over the solution.”

Pastor Joel Hunter, a prominent evangelical leader, made a compelling moral case for immigration reform, noting that “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.” 

Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, also touched on values in his remarks, stating “I hope we can agree on the compelling need to give millions of undocumented immigrants in our country a realistic, humane way to come out of the shadows and legalize their status. As a lifelong civil rights advocate, I recognize the treatment of undocumented immigrants as an economic and legal issue of great importance.  But it is also a civil rights issue of profound significance that goes directly to our most fundamental understanding of civil and human rights.”

Doris Meissner, former head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and a Senior Fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, used her testimony to focus on the reasons Congress should enact comprehensive immigration reform this year, the policy it should include, and how it can best be implemented by the Department of Homeland Security.  Drawing up on her years of management experience at the former INS, Meissner said: “We need a phased legalization program that begins with a simple requirement for a background check so that criminals can be weeded out, and a straightforward registration process that leads to work authorization and a chance to get in the queue for adjustment.  Then, over time, applicants can earn their way to permanent residency and ultimately to citizenship for those who so choose.”

At the request of Ranking Member, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the hearing also included Jeff Moseley, President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership and a business voice supporting the need for comprehensive reform, as well as the notoriously anti-immigrant Kris Kobach, a Professor at the University of Missouri (Kansas City) School of Law, who also works with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).  FAIR has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  While underscoring Greenspan’s arguments about the economic benefits of reform, Moseley also called for an immigration debate that featured “less rhetoric and a common sense solution that both parties can support.  We all want leaders that are willing to share that truth rather than having the primary source of information be the entertainment industry that inflames, rather than explains, the reality and complexity of the immigration issue.” 

Moseley’s comments were in stark contrast to the extremist canards put forth by Kobach.  After citing research from virulently anti-immigration organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies, Kobach compared the undocumented population in the U.S. to thieves and then said, “If you give a thief an amnesty . . . you certainly wouldn’t say that an amnesty has to include giving the thief the money that he stole.  Now, what has an illegal alien taken? Presence in the United States that was not given to him?  So therefore . . . in my view — a true amnesty or a good amnesty would not include giving him what he has taken.”  Kobach also proposed that the American people would “rather have the status quo than an amnesty program.”

Despite the claims of Kobach, a series of recent polls show that Americans broadly expect and favor comprehensive reform.  As Senator Schumer noted in his opening statement, “No one is happy with our current system, whether they are left, right, or center.  There is recognition in America that the status quo is not working. Indeed, recent polls show that 57% of Americans believe that immigration reform should be a high priority for this Congress. The politics may be hard, but reality is obvious: it is everyone’s best interests to change and fix our current immigration system.”

Click here to view the live blog of the Senate Hearing

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.