Senate hearing offers glimpse of heated politics behind immigration reform

On April 22, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration legislation showed that the path to immigration may continue to be rocky. The session featured testimonies from 23 people, all with specific questions regarding the new bill. A major setback in the plan occurred when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a Tea Party Republican and supporter of immigration reform, called on Senate leaders to hold off until lawmakers know if system failures played a role in aiding the Boston bombing suspects.

This notion caused tempers to flair within the Senate, and top Democrats accused those opposing comprehensive reform legislation of using last week’s Boston Marathon bombings to slow or even dissuade support for the new bill. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, was one of the senators who said that some Republicans were using the events of April 15 as a way to “exploit” the legislation.

“Last week, opponents began to exploit the Boston Marathon bombing,” Leahy said during his opening remarks. “I urge restraint in that regard. Refugees and asylum-seekers have enriched the fabric of this country from our founding. Let no one be so cruel as to use these heinous acts of two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people.”

Backing up Leahy’s accusation was Gang of Eight Senator Charles Schumer, who seemed to criticize his fellow senators, who, he said, “are pointing to what happened, the terrible tragedy in Boston, as, I would say, an excuse for not doing a bill or delaying it many months or years.”

Schumer recommended that the bill press forward and be modified in order to address questions in the wake of the Boston attacks. Senators like Marco Rubio said that the Boston attacks reinforce why immigration reform should be a lengthy, open and transparent process.

“If there are things that come up as a result of what happen in Boston that require improvement, let’s add them to the bill,” Schumer said. “Certainly our bill tightens up things that would make a Boston less likely.”

Issues that arose during the Senate meeting included the possibility of voting for each part of the bill separately, which concerned Democrats. The Gang of Eight did insist that legislation must be fully agreed upon, but Democrats are concerned that they won’t be able to muster support for a path to citizenship if lawmakers were allowed to vote on all issues separately.

Another subject came up during the testimony of Jim Kolbe, a former Republican congressman from Arizona who is gay and endured a yearlong separation from his partner, a Panamanian immigrant, when the man’s work visa expired. The new legislation currently does not touch on same-sex couples, meaning that they are not recognized as a family unit and cannot get spousal green cards.

“Families like mine are left behind as part of this proposal,” Kolbe said. “Equally important, U.S. businesses and our economy suffer because of the omission of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families from the bill introduced last week.”

Several Republican members of the bipartisan group have explicitly said that adding such protections would doom the legislation.

According to Schumer, the ongoing Senate talks could come to an end in May, when the Senate meets for a month-long debate. He noted that there is nationwide support for immigration reform, and that a horrible tragedy such as the Boston bombings will not derail the process for hardworking immigrants who have waited years for citizenship.

“The American people are overwhelmingly for immigration reform,” Schumer said. “That’s what every poll says. And they will not be satisfied with calls for delays and impediments towards the bill.”