WASHINGTON — Rosa Velazquez, who was born in Mexico but grew up in southwestern Arkansas, urged a House panel Tuesday to adopt comprehensive immigration reform and not simply provide a path to citizenship for so-called "Dreamers" like herself.
"When members of Congress tell me that I deserve an opportunity to earn citizenship and my mother does not, I tell them that if anyone deserves that opportunity to earn citizenship, it is my mother, Rosalinda," she said.
Velazquez testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration at a hearing that focused on an as yet undrafted House Republican proposal to provide a path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said children, who know no home other than the United States should be treated differently than their parents who intentionally broke the law.
"Surely they don’t share the culpability of their parents," he said. "But I do not believe parents should be afforded the same treatment."
The Senate has approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would grant legal status to undocumented workers already in the country as well as a lengthy and demanding path to citizenship.
A majority of Republicans — including those in the Arkansas delegation — oppose the Senate plan, saying it does not insure a secure border before granting undocumented immigrants legal status. Many are also concerned that it does not go far enough in holding the undocumented immigrants accountable for breaking U.S. immigration laws.
Velazquez, who lives in De Queen, arrived in the United States 25 years ago at age five — flying into Dallas with her mother and four-year-old brother. Her father crossed into the United States a year later.
Her mother had a visa but overstayed it, working for a decade in a chicken processing plant until she developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Her parents now own a Mexican grocery store in De Queen.
"My mother’s hardworking hands are the reason that today, I am currently a grad student at Henderson State University and Harding University in Arkansas, pursuing two master’s degrees," Velazquez said.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill, who introduced the first Dream Act a dozen years ago, urged his colleagues to look inside to find empathy for the Velazquez family and millions of others who fear being separated under this nation’s broken immigration laws.
"The pain you hear today? Multiply that by millions and think of those millions of tears," he said.
Velazquez said after the hearing that she was grateful for being allowed to testify and hopes that this is the beginning and not the end of the conversation in Congress.