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Where’s the Action on Immigration Reform this Week? At Wednesday’s Senate Hearing More than at Tuesday’s SOTU

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On Tuesday night, President Obama’s State of the Union address and the Republican response from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) are expected to promote immigration reform, which has emerged as at top priority in 2013.  But Tuesday night will simply continue the momentum behind the reform effort initiated in January at the Senate press conference announcing a bipartisan immigration framework and President Obama’s speech in Las Vegas the following day.

It would make lots of news if Senator Rubio used his big night to clarify how long his proposed path to citizenship would take.  Is it a matter of years or decades?  But most likely, we are going to get general expressions of support rather than clarified policy positions – positions that could make all the difference to millions of people.

The real action begins on Wednesday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), will hold its first immigration hearing of the 113th Congress.  At the hearing, we’ll hear from leaders representing a broad cross-section of America that stands in favor of common sense immigration reform, ranging from NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía to high-tech leader and AOL co-founder Steve Case.  The pro-reform witness list also includes Jose Antonio Vargas, the undocumented journalist and founder of Define American who, in conjunction with the DREAM movement, has transformed and humanized the immigration debate by courageously coming out and fearlessly sharing his story.  To our knowledge, this will be the first time an “out” undocumented immigrant testifies before Congress.

In contrast to the pro-reform lineup of witnesses called by the majority, the two minority witnesses invited by the Republicans will parrot restrictionist talking points about why Congress should continue to avoid and derail broad immigration reform.  How do we know that?  Well, both ICE Union President Chris Crane and Center for Immigration Studies’ (CIS) Jessica Vaughan already appeared as a witnesses at the House immigration hearing just last week.  It appears the anti-reform side does not have a particularly deep bench.

Nor does the anti-reform side have a particularly good track record.  These are the same people who brought you Mitt Romney’s disastrous  embrace of “self-deportation.”  You remember, the position that may well have cost him the election by alienating Latino, Asian, and immigrant voters?  It seems they haven’t learned much.  Mark Krikorian, Ms. Vaughan’s boss at CIS, tweeted on Friday, “Illegal-alien journalist Jose Antonio Vargas will testify next week before Senate Judiciary.  Will anyone arrest him?”  Really?  We’re predicting that neither Jessica Vaughan nor Chris Crane have the guts to call for this when sitting on the same congressional panel as the man who graced the cover of Time Magazine last year.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, “Sure, President Obama and Senator Rubio both speaking up for immigration reform on Tuesday night is a big deal and adds to the momentum that has accelerated dramatically over the past two weeks.  But the most important immigration event of this week is Wednesday’s hearing.  This is the first step in bringing legislation forward and moving a bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee.  It will be interesting how the assembled Senators respond to the testimonies from both sides.  Spoiler alert: one group remains stuck in denial or stuck the past, and the other is working to help move this country forward.”