Leahy Admits Panel Will Miss Immigration Deadline; GOP Says Take It Slow

"They are very close,” Hoyer said. “I think they've made real progress. I think the group of eight is a pretty broad group of people, representing a pretty broad stretch of philosophy in the House of Representatives.”

Details of the House plan have not been released.

Republicans have traditionally offered a cold shoulder to immigration-reform plans, killing a proposal from one of their own, former President George W. Bush, in 2007 that would have enhanced security, imposed tough workplace measures, created a temporary worker program, and legalized those already in the country.

But the GOP has been losing ground to Latinos, the fastest growing voting sector in the population, amid complaints that the party isn’t sensitive to their concerns. A recent report issued by the Republican National Committee urged lawmakers to adopt an immigration-reform bill to stem the tide.

“In what is being called its ‘autopsy’ of the last election, the Republican National Committee wrote that ‘Hispanic voters tell us our party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door,” Leahy said. “After slamming the door on our efforts for comprehensive immigration reform during the Bush administration, I welcome Republicans to this effort. While I still worry that too many continue to oppose a straightforward pathway to citizenship, that is a discussion we need to have out in the open, in front of the American people.”

At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Ahilan T. Arulanantham, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project, urged the panel to make significant changes in the deportation process, noting that many of those caught in the system have no clue about what they’re facing.

“Deportation is always considered a civil penalty, and therefore deportation hearings lack virtually all of the protections associated with criminal punishment, despite the potentially life-or-death death consequences at stake for many immigrants,” Arulanantham said. “As a result, immigrants have no right to a prompt bail hearing, and in many cases no right to a bail hearing at all. They have no right to a speedy trial, and never go before a jury. Their cases are not presided over by a judge as we commonly think of judges – they are adjudicated by administrative law judges who serve at the pleasure of the attorney general.”

Pamela A. Stampp, an immigration attorney, supported the claim and asserted that immigrants facing deportation should be afforded an attorney if they can’t afford one. She cited a study that shows 60 percent of immigrants placed in removal proceedings go unrepresented by counsel.

Congress can build an immigration system “worthy of American values,” Stampp said, by “ensuring the interests of justice are served, the costs to the taxpayer are reduced and the efficiency of the administration of justice are enhanced.”

But Jan Ting, a former assistant commissioner at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, noted that the U.S. has “never provided at taxpayer expense legal representation in civil matters,” even in high-stakes litigation involving issues like home ownership or lost jobs.

“You have to think about American citizens first before forcing them to pay for lawyers for non-citizens,” he said.

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