House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), a proponent of tenets of the “Dream Act” for young illegal immigrants spoke before attendees at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights in Queens, New York on Saturday. Cantor and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) were the only two Republicans at the event, which was organized by the Faith & Politics Institute.
The stop at the temple was part of a bipartisan tour of New York City over the weekend in which members of Congress supporting comprehensive immigration reform participated.
Other lawmakers at the Jewish Center in Jackson Heights were Reps. Joe Crowley (D-NY), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).
“I want to commend the institute today for seizing upon the issue of our country as a country of immigrants and giving us all an opportunity to try an set the political rancor aside and really just focus on the sense and the spirit on what immigration means in what it all means to us personally and what it means to America.”
Cantor thanked Diaz-Balart as well as Congressman Crowley, whose district was the site of the day’s event. “Luis [Gutierrez],” Cantor said, “the leadership you’re providing through thick and thin right now as we try and navigate these very tough political times in choppy waters. My hat is off to you. I’m very grateful.”
Cantor compared the current immigration debate in the United States to the experience Jews have had for thousands of years.
“When I say ‘our people’ I mean our people do. And it is also testament to what the country is testament to but the way I look at it, as an American Jew, and it is different. And I say that, because first of all, as a people for thousands and thousands of years didn’t belong anywhere. We didn’t have a homeland. A couple of thousands of years exiled from the land of the Israel,” Cantor said.
Cantor went further saying, “I imagine somewhere in the DNA it works on you and develops a sense of longing and so when you look at the history of this country–this country was the first country to do what Luis Gutierrez said yesterday when he said this country was always there with a helping hand. This country, and first by President George Washington, took a stand to say the Jews will be welcomed–will be welcomed as citizens–full citizens, equal citizens–of this country.”
Cantor discussed Washington’s letter to the congregants of the U.S.’s oldest synagogue in Rhode Island, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport. Paraphrasing Washington’s letter, Cantor said Washington told them ‘The U.S. government [would] provide no support for bigotry or assistance to persecution.’ Essentially, that does put a marker down about what our country is about.”
Cantor refused to take questions from the press, as he slipped out of the Jewish Center on to the tour bus. It should be noted that protesters advocating for immediate citizenship outside of the temple were not allowed inside to hear any of the lawmakers. Gutierrez, however, did talk to the press explaining that comprehensive immigration reform cannot pass without bipartisan support. He stressed to Breitbart News that he believes getting a House bill to conference is “essential and critical.”
“Democrats are not in control of the House of Representatives and Republicans while they are lost the referendum on the immigration issue on November 6. The American people want us to stop picking winners and losers,” Gutierrez told reporters.” They want us to settle out our political differences. They want us to resolve the broken immigration system. We have the opportunity to do just that.”