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.”