U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren ’70 kicked off “American Dream Week” with a speech Monday evening, calling the current American immigration system “unbelievably unfair” and criticizing both Republican legislators and the Obama administration.
As part of a weeklong series of events sponsored by several students groups, Rep. Lofgren, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Immigration, discussed what she described as the shortcomings of American immigration policy, expressed dim hopes for bipartisan compromise on immigration legislation before the 2012 election and shared harsh words for her Republican colleagues in Congress who have opposed Democrat-led efforts at such legislation.
The event, entitled “The California DREAM Act Passed, Now What?” centered on the prospects for a federal version of the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide conditional permanent residency to certain illegal immigrants who came to the United States as minors. Incarnations of the bill have been debated in Congress for a decade, with the most recent rejected by the Senate in Dec. 2010 after passing the House.
“[Passing the DREAM Act in the House] was one of the most meaningful moments I’ve had,” Lofgren said. “Our galleries were filled with [students who would have benefited from the DREAM Act], and it was really thrilling to see… these young people explode into applause.”
Expressing “tremendous disappointment” that the Senate was unable to reach the 60-vote threshold to advance the bill, Lofgren added that the DREAM Act’s future is bleak in the current Congress.
“If [the act] was a problem then, it’s even worse today with Republicans in charge of the House,” she said. “There is not a chance that I see that the DREAM Act will be taken up.”
According to Lofgren, this darkens even the smallest glimmers of hope for comprehensive immigration reform in the near future.
“If we can’t get the DREAM Act through, the prospects for comprehensive reform… in this Congress is very, very slim,” she said.
Lofgren said she blames a lack of bipartisanship for inaction on illegal immigration.
“Originally the DREAM Act was a bipartisan bill. It was Chris Cannon, a Republican from Utah, and Howard Berman, Democrat of southern California, who put [the bill] together with very even, bipartisan sponsorship [in 2003],” she said. “That was probably the last time we saw any bipartisanship on [immigration.]”
In particular, Lofgren had harsh words for legislators who have so far rejected attempts to change the status quo on illegal immigration, despite neither party’s satisfaction with today’s policies.
“Sometimes my colleagues say they’re not against immigration, just against illegal immigration,” she said. “But if you look at many of the individuals who say that, in fact they work very hard to make it almost impossible to legally immigrate to the United States. It’s not a line that I buy.”
Lofgren also criticized President Barack Obama’s handling of illegal immigrants.
“I support President Obama’s re-election, but I think stepping on the gas pedal [enforcing] a system that almost everybody acknowledges is broken is… not the smartest,” she said. “[This administration] has deported over a million people so far, actually [exceeding] the deportations of the two terms of the Bush administration.”
Lofgren maintained that there are opportunities for progress on the topic of immigration, which has been emotional and controversial on both sides of the aisle.
“In the [last sitting of] Congress, myself and a couple other Democratic members decided that we should have secret meetings with Republicans on immigration,” she said. “And we had… over 100 hours of meetings, and after over a year we drafted a bill and watermarked it so nobody could leak it.”
But the same political factors that stopped the progress of that bill still exist today, Lofgren said.
“Right now [Republicans] are afraid of primary fights,” she said.
Lofgren encouraged audience members to assess their own participation in the debate concerning immigration.
“I have a role in that, but all of you do as well,” she said.
Ireri Hernandez ’15, an organizer of the event, said she agrees.
“I feel that informing people is the first step to getting anything done,” Hernandez said. “This week is about informing people in getting them to ask questions. It may not be really relevant to them [personally], but it is relevant to their country.”
“The hope isn’t lost,” Rafael Vazquez ’12, ASSU Senate Chair and an organizer of American Dream Week added. “[We] do now have tangible steps… to see something like the DREAM Act passed.”