A protest in Maricopa County against racial profiling and immigrant crackdowns. (Reuters/Joshua Lott)
Three days of the Senate’s judiciary hearing on proposed immigration legislation were dominated by questions over the Boston bombing. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified on Tuesday, and Senator Chuck wasted no time in his opening remarks and subsequent questioning to tie the hearing to the bombing. The topic is an unfortunate distraction that doesn’t reflect the reality of the estimated 11 million that could attain some form of status through the bill.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Senator Grassley inquired, “with regard to the Saudi student, was he on a watch list, and if so, how did he obtain a student visa?” Grassley was referring to the 22-year-old Abdulrahman al-Harbi, who was injured during last week’s blast during the Boston marathon, ran away from the explosions—as did most bystanders, fearing for their safety—and was then hunted and then tackled down by a mob before being turned over to the police. Police then handed al-Harbi over to federal authorities, who interrogated him and searched his apartment before determining he wasn’t involved. Napolitano answered that al-Harbi simply “was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” What she neglected to mention was that the young man was guilty of being Saudi while injured, and that his appearance was what deemed him suspicious.
Grassley’s questions about al-Harbi were unnecessary in connection to the immigration bill, as were other questions about the alleged Boston brothers. The Tsarnaev brothers arrived to the US as refugees. The older Tamerlan obtained a green card, and the younger Dzhokhar is a naturalized citizen. Proposed immigration legislation is meant to address the status of some 11 million people—most of whom did not enter as refugees from war. Yet three days of hearings often focused on the Tsarnaevs and the Boston bombings.
Tuesday’s hearing, however, held certain decorum that Monday’s hearing lacked. Mark Krikorian, who heads the nativist Center for Immigration Studies, wondered what Boston “says about our broken patriotic assimilation system,” only after a long diatribe in which he awkwardly accused Senator Chuck Schumer of taking Krikorian’s “name in vain.” Soon after, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who’s the intellectual author behind anti-immigrant legislation across the country, almost immediately testified that “an alien who has a terrorist background can call himself ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ without having to prove that that is his real name.’ ” Kobach, who used the hearing to press that a path to legalization will only make the country less secure, invoked a logic that’s informed much of his voter suppression work throughout the states.
The hearings have centered on security, with many lawmakers and witnesses suggesting that regularizing the status of the nation’s undocumented immigrants would place the United States in harm’s way. Yet undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than their native-born counterparts—notwithstanding a criminal justice system that racially profiles and targets perceived immigrants. During three days of hearings, only one undocumented immigrant, United We Dream’s Gaby Pacheco, bravely testified about her reality, and why she decided to walk from Miami to DC three years ago for immigration reform. Pacheco was only one of more than two dozen witnesses who spoke from her actual experience; while many pro-immigrant advocates also testified, several others provided misguided and distracting testimony.
There’s a fear that the immigration bill will not only be more conservatively amended, but that it may even be scrapped because of the Boston bombings. The concentration on one incident last week, over the status of million people who want to come out of the shadows, couldn’t come at a worse time.
What happened last week? Read Richard Kim’s take in this week’s issue of The Nation.