It’s not unusual for politicians on Capitol Hill to recognize citizens during hearings on legislation that would have a positive or negative impact on their lives.
But that tactic took a different turn this week when hundreds of illegal immigrants filled the largest hearing room in the Senate to openly participate in the proceedings.
And they did so without threat of arrest from the nation’s chief immigration law enforcement official who was sitting in the front row: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Many of the illegal immigrants were recognized by name by Sen. Dick Durbin (D. –Ill.) who led the panel, and commended by Obama administration officials who want to give them legal status under sweeping legislation called the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act would give permanent legal status to illegal immigrants, up to age 35, who arrived in the United States before age 16, provided they complete two years of college or serve two years in the military.
“The young people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act call themselves dreamers,” Durbin said. “Over the years, I have met hundreds of these dreamers, and hundreds of them are here today,” Durbin continued.
Durbin introduced about a half dozen of the illegal immigrants by name and asked them to stand, as he told their story of how they were brought into the country illegally by their parents. Although they had attended U.S. schools, Durbin said they
could either not get jobs or faced problems pursing higher education because of their illegal status.
“Let me ask everyone here today who is a DREAM Act student to stand and be recognized,” Durbin said.
Nearly everyone in the audience stood.
“Thank you so much for being here,” Durbin said.
Just 24 hours before the hearing was scheduled to convene in the rather small hearing room of the Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building which seats about 100 people, Republican staffers were notified that Democrats had moved the proceeding to room 216 of the Hart Building.
Better known as the “media room,” that hearing hall can seat 300 to 400 and is typically reserved for large gatherings, like confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justices.
Napolitano told this subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee that although the large group gathered was part of the population that is subject to deportation, there would be no enforcement of the law that morning.