WASHINGTON – A 26-year-old college student whose family stands to benefit from President Obama’s executive order providing relief to about 5 million undocumented workers told a Senate committee the initiative makes the United States a stronger country and demonstrates what the nation stands for – “the American dream.”
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Astrid Silva, of Las Vegas, chastised those who have criticized Obama for signing the order that protects from deportation unauthorized immigrant parents who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years and have children who either were born in the U.S. or are legal permanent residents and expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. It also bolsters security along the nation’s southern border.
“When people attack the president for this action or challenge his legal authority, they are attacking me,” Silva said. “They are attacking my mother. They are attacking the hundreds of thousands of children who need their parents to care for them and tell them that there are no monsters under the bed. They are attacking workers who are contributing to our economy. They are attacking me with every word that they say.”
Silva told the committee she was 4 years old when her parents floated her across the Rio Grande from Mexico in a homemade tire raft. America, she said, is the only country she has ever known. She learned English, graduated from high school and is working toward a college degree having gained some personal protection from deportation under DACA.
“But my fear didn’t end completely,” Silva said. “I am still afraid that my mom and dad will be deported. Even though we have lived for more than 22 years in the same house, in the same neighborhood, and in the same community, I am afraid that one day I will come home and they will be gone. That our lives will be turned upside down. That we will be torn apart and separated.”
Despite being a hard worker, Silva said, her father faced deportation but Obama’s executive order “will keep my family together.”
“Of course there are many, many more that it will not help,” she said. “I have many friends whose parents will not qualify, I have many friends who do not have children and therefore don’t qualify. I feel tremendously lucky that first I, and now my parents, fall into categories of people that can be legally protected if we meet certain qualifications. But so many of those countless others who aren’t so lucky, are really just like us. They are people that, like my family, are only making our country a better place.”
Obama said he signed the executive order protecting certain undocumented workers from deportation because Congress has failed to act on what is viewed as a growing problem. The Senate passed a package in 2013 that the White House found acceptable but the House has refused to act. Silva urged lawmakers to “pass a permanent legislative fix to our country’s broken immigration system so all mothers and fathers can be with their children.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who presided over the hearing, noted that she was born in Japan before immigrating to her mother’s native Hawaii as a child, providing her with empathy for those who likewise entered the U.S. at an early age.
“While we had very little as immigrants, Mom had a dream to provide a better life for our family,” Hirono said. “Many of these families come to the U.S. to pursue similar dreams, perhaps starting their own business or working to provide for their family in a safe community. Regardless of education or background or financial means, immigrants do best with their families around them. Family is the cornerstone of our immigration system and the president’s commonsense plan helps keep families together.”
Hirono said the executive order “is not just some abstract discussion about legal theory. It is about real people and real families. It is about taking concrete steps toward making our families and our economy stronger.”
But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member who stands to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when the 114th Congress convenes in January, blasted the president’s initiative as a usurpation of congressional powers, maintaining “I fear that the rule of law here in the United States is being slowly eroded, as the branch of government charged with faithfully executing the laws is increasingly abandoning its duty.”
“Today, it’s estimated that more than 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the country, with many deliberately bypassing the proper channels and breaking our laws to gain entry,” Grassley said. “By all accounts, the U.S. immigration system is broken and we must return to a system where the rule of law applies to our immigration policies – just as it applies to other sectors of society.”
The issue regarding the proper handling of undocumented individuals who have entered the U.S. “is a challenging one,” Grassley acknowledged.
“But instead of trusting in Congress’s role and in the democratic process, President Obama has chosen to further erode the rule of law by doing what he’s said for so long he lacked authority to do – he’s unilaterally altering our nation’s immigration policy in one fell swoop,” Grassley said, citing the executive order as an abuse of power.
“It’s a serious blow to our system of checks and balances established by the framers,” Grassley said. “Most importantly, it’s a total disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law.”
The GOP majority in both the House and Senate are expected to take some action next year countermanding Obama’s executive order.