The House held its first hearing of the legislative cycle on immigration yesterday. The Senate’s Gang of Eight and the White House issued respective frameworks last week—and there’s a big fear that if legislation stalls, it will likely happen in the House. Missing from yesterday’s panels of experts at the daylong House Judiciary Committee hearing were the voices of undocumented workers and their families who are most affected by a broken immigration policy. That’s why a group of thirteen young people working with United We Dream say they decided to disrupt the hearing, chanting “Undocumented! Unafraid!” The Dreamers were promptly removed, but signaled that undocumented people will insert themselves in immigration debates whenever possible.
The hearing was split into two parts; the first focused on what types of improvements can be made to current immigration policy, while the second centered on enforcement. As the hearing got underway, Representative John Conyers Jr., the ranking Democrat from Michigan, warned against using the term “illegal immigrant,” a recommendation that was largely ignored throughout the day.
During the first half of the hearing, Professor Vivek Wadhwa and Dr. Puneet Arora advocated for so-called high skilled workers, denouncing that students who earn doctorates and other advanced degree increasingly move abroad. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who reminded the hearing that he’s the grandchild of immigrant orphaned from Mexico, attempted to balance Harvard Law School’s Michael Teitelbaum, who contended that visas should only be made when there are vast shortages in a given sector—adding that family reunification should not be a priority in any upcoming immigration reform.
As the question and answer period got underway, some lawmakers illustrated why immigration reform remains a problematic topic in the House. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) called full citizenship a “toxic issue,” which could be the roadblock to reform. Trey Gawdy (R-SC) claimed that many undocumented people simply don’t want citizenship, and that a new bill would “force” it upon them. And just as Darrell Issa (R-CA) was set to begin his questions, a group of Dreamers disrupted the hearing.
Twenty-seven-year-old Jorge Gutierrez from Los Angeles said that Issa was not the target—only that the hearing itself provided an opportunity to remain visible during the immigration debate. United We Dream has a three-point plan on how to move forward: one, to make sure there is a clear pathway to citizenship; two, an end to heightened enforcement; and three, to make sure that LGBT partners are included in any reform. Gutierrez, who is in the process of applying for President Obama’s deferred action plan, said that while others are shying away from including LGBT partners, his group is “leading the way and saying they have to be a part of the conversation.”
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who chaired the committee, immediately objected to the disruption. “This is not the way to make your point,” he warned.
The Dreamers clearly disagreed with Goodlatte—and with what several experts and lawmakers had to say yesterday. Marco Antonio Quiroga is a 26-year-old from Orlando, Florida. He moved with both parents and four siblings from Lima, Peru, when he was only 2 years old. He says his parents separated due to domestic abuse, and his mother, who had no family, no money and hardly spoke English, worked as a domestic worker to make ends meet.
Quiroga says that his mother, who toiled in homes, hotels and even Disneyworld, did everything she could to provide a good life for her children—and that claims about undocumented workers not wanting citizenship is a myth: “What we don’t want to be forced into is becoming permanent second-class individuals. Not me, not my mother. We want full citizenship.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, Quiroga wanted to study to be a doctor, but says he hit a wall when trying to apply to schools because he doesn’t have a Social Security number. He has also applied for deferred action, but pointed out that it’s a temporary fix, which doesn’t exclude him from future possible deportation or exclusion.
Quiroga and Gutierrez both identify as queer, and work with the group’s Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project. They emphasize the inclusion of the LGBT community, and are hoping to garner support from the greater LGBT community.
The hearing resumed after the protesters were escorted out. Although net migration at the border is at zero and interior enforcement is at an all-time high, the second half of the hearing focused on enforcement. After a separate meeting with labor and progressive leaders yesterday, Obama declined to amend deportation policies. While there are plenty of conversations about immigration, actual legislation remains intangible.
The road ahead will hinge not only on full citizenship and LGBT recognition, but also on other possible stipulations like expensive fees and English language requirements. In the meantime, undocumented immigrants have made clear that they want a seat at the table—and if one isn’t offered, they’ll still make their voices heard.
For more on the Dreamers, read Aura Bogado’s feature in this week’s issue of The Nation.