Amid continued uncertainty over the fate of comprehensive immigration reform in the GOP-led House, a congressional panel on Tuesday considered the issue of whether undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children should be able to pursue legal status and eventual citizenship.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a powerful Republican voice on immigration reform, said during a subcommittee hearing that those brought here as children "deserve to be considered from a different perspective" than undocumented immigrants who chose to break the law by illegal entry or visa overstay.
But Goodlatte made clear that he does not believe that extends to undocumented immigrants who came to the country as adults.
"I do not believe that parents who made the decision to illegally enter the U.S. while forcing their children to join them should be afforded the same treatment as these kids," he said in introductory remarks.
Some Democrats argue that Republicans are embracing the politically palatable DREAM Act in order to avoid discussion of a comprehensive solution to the immigration problem that addresses the entire undocumented population.
"Legalizing the DREAMers is not enough," Democrat Luis Gutierrez, a longtime proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, said in testimony to the subcommittee. "It is not enough given all the hard work and equities that millions of immigrants have built in this country. It is not enough to to satisfy the intense hunger for legality, the desire to pledge allegiance to this country and the national interest in restoring the rule of law."
Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Goodlatte are working on legislation to address the issue of citizenship for those immigrant children, tentatively titled the KIDS Act, but it has not yet been introduced.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who has declined to take a position on whether a path to citizenship should be an option for the larger group of undocumented immigrants, said last week that the principles are “about basic fairness.”
Cantor, his top deputy, called it a matter of "decency."
“It's an issue of decency, of compassion,” he said. "Where else would these kids go?"
The Senate-passed immigration bill contains a measure – the DREAM Act – that would offer a fast-track path to citizenship for those brought to the United States as children if they meet certain criteria, like completing schooling or serving in the military.
A version of the DREAM Act passed the House in 2010 but failed in the Senate.
Opponents of the legislation say that any path to citizenship for previously undocumented immigrants – even those brought to the United States as children – is unfair to legal immigrants and could encourage more illegal border crossings.
In an interview of Univision earlier this month, Rep. Steve King of Iowa – one of the most vocal opponents of immigration reform – said that any legalization would violate America’s founding principle.
“One of the pillars of American exceptionalism is the rule of law,” he said. “[If] the sympathy in our heart for the DREAMers is greater than our love for the rule of law, then we have failed, we failed our Founding Fathers, and we have diminished the destiny of this nation."
King also drew fire Tuesday for suggesting that the majority of undocumented DREAM Act-eligible immigrants are involved in drug trafficking.
"For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert," he said in an interview with Newsmax.
During Tuesday's hearing, Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., delivered an emotional rebuke to King, calling those comments "beneath the dignity of this body and this country."
King, who was present at the hearing, did not address Garcia' criticism but reiterated that even legalization for the young undocumented population would violate the "rule of law."
While witnesses who spoke in favor of immigration reform got a cordial reception from most Republican members, the back-and-forth was not without a few more political jabs.
Thanking participants at the conclusion of the hearing, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina - who leads the immigration subcommittee - said their nuanced understanding of the problem contrasted with the opinions of White House senior adviser Dan Pfieffer, who took to Twitter to describe the GOP plan as "allow some kids to stay but deport their parents."
"I want to compliment and thank you for not being a demagogic self-serving political hack who can't even be elected to a parent advisory committee much less Congress, which is what Mr. Pfeiffer is," he said.
First published July 23 2013, 2:58 PM