Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) hosted a packed forum about immigration reform in her home district of Houston, Texas last week. For anyone concerned about the specter of “comprehensive” immigration reform becoming legal reality, the event provided two cold, hard slaps in the face.
The first, and expected smack was how the one-sided event completely ignored the very real problems the nation faces regarding immigration and jobs. The second, more stinging blow came with the realization that the anti-amnesty calvary didn’t arrive; while hundreds of pro-reform voices filled Houston’s City Hall, only three adults showed up to make the case against the deeply flawed, nation-altering comprehensive immigration reform proposal.
For months, the political class in Washington has demagogued, tinkered with, marked-up, and finagled the immigration issue that President Barack Obama hopes will be the centerpiece of his second term. The voices against the institutional left-backed comprehensive immigration reform plan have been muted, and the proposal has even received support from the Koch brothers and the Chamber of Commerce.
As the August town hall season begins, immigration reform observers have been curious to see whether the people opposed to the bloated comprehensive proposal would rise up as they’ve done in years past when similar legislation was floated–notably, in 2009, during the Obamacare debate. The meeting hosted by Sheila Jackson Lee didn’t bring any good news for anyone opposed to comprehensive immigration reform.
Yes, the cards were stacked against anti-amnesty activism. The town hall event was scheduled at an inconvenient time for most working people–on a Monday afternoon, from 2pm to 4pm. Still, there were rumors that people from the local and active Tea Party groups in Houston were going to make a showing. That simply didn’t happen.
Democrats aren’t resting on their laurels. In an interview on MSNBC with Ed Schultz on Monday, Rep. Lee was confident that an immigration bill would pass the Congress because of Democrat activism on the issue:
I’m going to be optimistic because I don’t think Speaker Boehner has any choice. I don’t think the Republican Party has any choice. I don’t think those who are going to continue to petition their government…are going to give them any choice.
Rep. Lee had designed the Houston event as a dog-and-pony show that wasn’t going to give the audience any choice, either. She brought in Democrat politicians from around Texas to hear from “witnesses,” all of whom were pro-comprehensive immigration reform. As KUHF described it:
Their positions on immigration are well known. Nevertheless, Democratic members of Congress Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green and Gene Green of Houston, Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, and Marc Veasly of Fort Worth heard multiple witnesses on the benefits of comprehensive immigration reform at the crowded city council chambers.
Jackson Lee says the point wasn’t necessarily to change someone’s mind right then.
We think that that’s important to put on the record. And we also think it’s important to hear from people on how they will be directly impacted. That’s this hearing: How will Houston and Texas directly be impacted by comprehensive immigration reform.
What resulted was a hodgepodge of pro-immigration reform goobeldygook. Take the witness who appeared to be saying that America has so many jobs available that it’s forced illegal immigration: “We have large scale undocumented today because there’s been no legal way for people to come and do all the jobs that would otherwise have gone unfulfilled.”
The same witness also said the following statements that seem to…well, just read them a couple of times and see if they make any sense at all: “Jobs are created when we have enough people to complete the workforce. Jobs are lost when employers do not have the right component of workers.”
The tenor and mood of the event can best be summed up by one witness who received the biggest ovation: a nervous but well-spoken young man named Isaac Valdez. Mr. Valdez is the student body President at University of Houston-Downtown, but it’s not his political or academic accomplishments that brought the thunderous applause he received. Mr. Valdez’s popularity sprung from the fact that he and his family are unashamed, unafraid illegal aliens.
A 2012 article on CultureMap Houston about Valdez said:
Isaac Valdez, a junior in mathematics, went first. In Spanish, he recounted the successes he has faced since enrolling as a student at UH-D and the opportunities that he has missed because of his undocumented status.
“My name is Isaac,” Valdez said. “I am undocumented and unafraid, and I have the right to dream.”
That declaration was echoed by three other students, who revealed similar stories and similar barriers to acceptance.
If any American were to sneak his or her kids into another country illegally, they would indeed have “barriers to acceptance” as they tried to exercise their “right to dream.” Simply put, nations from England to Canada to Australia to Mexico all have immigration laws and people who violate them are subject to deportation. That usually includes the children of illegal immigrants.
But this is where the debate on immigration has gone in the United States circa 2013: cheers and applause for illegal immigrants who openly flaunt their illegality. It’s not a scarlet letter, but a badge of honor.
Meanwhile, while the comprehensive immigration reform sideshow garnered clapping and whoops of glee, Houston itself faces real labor issues that a massive influx of largely unskilled and uneducated new citizens will do nothing to solve.
Another witness was a man name Bob Harvey. As the SEIU Texas website said:
Testimonies reflected the broad support for comprehensive reform in Texas. Bob Harvey, President of the Greater Houston Partnership spoke about the unsustainable nature of the current immigration system and the $27 billion generated from immigrant workers in Texas.
However, Harvey knows better about the actual issues Houston faces. As he himself told Houston Business Journal in May:
Houston still grapples with…talent attraction: Harvey said professional talent in Houston is going to increasingly come from outside the city and the state. Indeed, one major company in Houston told Harvey that half of its professional recruits come from outside Texas, he said.
“I haven’t heard that same statistic from the oil companies with respect to their engineers, but increasingly, we have to bring professional talent from all around the country to meet our needs,” he said.
Comprehensive immigration reform won’t solve that problem–but that isn’t the problem it was meant to solve. The political goal is to create millions of new Democratic voters. That’s what all the real excitement was about.