Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard Speaks on Immigration Reform

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Immigration is top of mind in Washington, with the Senate “Gang of Eight” announcing their plan for immigration reform Monday morning. The bipartisan committee, led by Charles Schumer (D-NY) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) unveiled their plan to overhaul immigration policy by emphasizing legal pathways to employment and citizenship. Notably absent was any discussion about family reunification or deportations.

Last week, BlogHer had the opportunity to speak with Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, a Democratic representative from California’s 40th Congressional district, about her involvement in immigration reform efforts. Roybal-Allard is noted as the first Mexican-American woman to be elected to congress twenty years ago, and she represents a largely Latino district in Southeast Los Angeles County. Given her experience representing a large community impacted by immigration and the renewed push at the federal level for comprehensive immigration reform, we thought that it would be timely for her to chime in and share her vision for this policy debate.

Image Credit: U.S. Congress/wikimedia commons

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard has been involved in crafting family reunification policy as she introduced the “Help Separated Families Act of 2012” back in July of last year. At least 5,100 children have been placed in foster care because their parents have been detained or deported according to a 2011 report by Colorlines. The broken immigration system with its continued emphasis on removals has created a situation where children have been separated from their immigrant parents. These kids are the victims of the record breaking deportations.

When asked if there should be a moratorium on the deportations of undocumented people who have U.S. born children, Representative Roybal-Allard said,

“I don’t know about any official moratorium, but given the greater public awareness of American children being put into foster care because their parents have been detained, we have to have a policy that values parental rights. I don’t think that the public in general has been made aware of the extent that families have been separated. As Americans, we have a value in parental rights, and the current situation doesn’t reflect our values.”

Already, immigration activists have been asking for a halt on deportations while the framework for immigration reform is being discussed. On Monday, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network called for the threat of deportation to be taken off the table immediately so that those who will have the possibility of being legalized can participate in the conversation about their future.

Representative Roybal-Allard did indicate that this year is different for the immigration reform battle. The President has indicated that immigration will be a primary focus, and because the public is showing strong support for comprehensive immigration reform. Tuesday, President Obama is scheduled to travel to Nevada to deliver an address on immigration reform. Also, the public is showing strong support for comprehensive immigration reform. Last week, a poll was released showing a majority of Americans (53%) saying that they want a plan to allow undocumented immigrants to become legal residents, representing a shift from two years ago when a majority indicated that the government should be more focused on deporting those immigrants than in providing a path to legalization.Roybal-Allard said that this time “there is no option to fail” in producing a bill that the President can sign.

When asked about border security and why comprehensive immigration reform proposals continue to emphasize securing the border when statistics show that the border is more secure than ever, the Congresswoman said,

“The anti-immigration people make the border an easy target, but the fact is that our borders are secure…the worst thing that can happen is to militarize the border.”

She also added that she did think that the borders should be secure and that people should be able to come into the country legally. Worth noting, the newly released bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform principles that were published on Sunday call for more border security including an increase in the number of unmanned aerial vehicles (aka drones), surveillance equipment and an increased number of agents at and between ports of entry.

As the immigration debate continues, it will be interesting to see the extent that the thoughts and ideas of women legislators are incorporated into a final bill. The “gang of eight” in the Senate, the group that released the comprehensive immigration reform principles, is comprised entirely of men. Will the voices of mothers and grandmothers, like Roybal-Allard, be heard when it comes to family reunification and additional border enforcement?

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