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October 22, 2017

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What about the children? Immigration reform hearing focuses on adults

Despite disagreement about where focus should be, at least one lawmaker believes House took ‘step in right direction of justice’

The House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing Tuesday regarding whether to give undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children a pathway to citizenship.

But instead of focusing on the children — whom few lawmakers would deny the option — Republican lawmakers spent the bulk of the hearing questioning why the parents and relatives who brought them to the U.S. shouldn’t be restricted from becoming citizens, given that they broke the law.

“All of us have sympathy for children who were brought here without knowledge that they were breaking the law,” said Iowa Rep. Steve King, widely considered the member of the committee least open to immigration reform. “But whose fault is it? It’s not the children’s fault if they're children. … Is it the parents’ fault? I think so.”

"We cannot reward those family members who have broken the law,” Rep. Cory Gardner of Colorado said.

The hearing pitted skeptical Republican members of Congress directly against immigration advocates, illustrating in one room the full breadth of the chasm this immigration debate must bridge.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, asked Pamela Rivera, an American citizen in her late 20s whose mother had been deported to Colombia, why legal status wasn’t a good substitute for citizenship.

“When it comes to my family, my mom, she wants to be part of this country. She thinks of herself as an American,” Rivera said. “I wouldn’t want her to have anything but citizenship.”

“I certainly understand why you wouldn’t want that, but Congress has got to make that decision,” Goodlatte said. “That’s the hard part.”

Nevada’s Rep. Mark Amodei attempted to navigate the divide by encouraging everyone to do some role playing.

“Branch out beyond your personal circumstances,” Amodei told Rivera and Rosa Velazquez, an undocumented 30-year-old from Arkansas. “How do you make sure this doesn’t happen again once you deal with this group (of immigrants)?”

“I think that’s your responsibility, congressman,” Velazquez answered.

“It’s very difficult to say how you fix this problem, but I know that you guys are incredibly talented,” Rivera said. “I know that you may think that that’s a cop-out, but I think sitting down and talking this out, you can figure it out.”

Other panelists suggested that with mandatory worksite verification such as E-Verify, border security, better policing of visa overstays — all items addressed in the Senate bill — Congress could come close to answering the problem Amodei presented.

“We’re not going to get 100 percent,” said Barrett Duke, vice president of the Southern Baptists Convention’s commission on ethics and religious liberty.

Armed with the conviction that nothing in the immigration debate is absolute, Republican members of the committee questioned why the committee was even being asked to consider affording adult immigrants the same pathway to citizenship as they were considering giving to individuals brought to the country as children.

“The devil’s in the details. … All 11 million people can’t pass a background check,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the immigration subcommittee, pointed out. “So why persist with the talking point?”

House Republicans have come under significant fire from some Democrats and many immigrant interest groups, who have charged that by promoting this children-only view of a pathway to citizenship, they are trying to kill immigration reform.

Astrid Silva, a leader among undocumented immigrant youths in Nevada, accused the House panel of “offering a crumb to some Dreamers and deportation for the rest” in a statement sent out on behalf of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

But Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee took a markedly different tone, very carefully coaxing — instead of criticizing — Republicans to expand their position on pathways to citizenship.

“This isn’t about the Senate bill. We can draft one here in the House of Representatives,” Rep. Luis Guiterrez of Illinois, the panel’s most vocal pro-immigration reform member, said to his Republican colleagues. “We have the skills and we have the knowledge, and I know we have the fortitude. … Thank you for taking a step in the right direction of justice today.”

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