Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and one of the country’s top Democrats met in Aurora on Tuesday with students at the center of stalled federal immigration-reform proposals, putting the focus on a contentious issue in his run against U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman to represent Colorado’s 6th Congressional District.
The Romanoff and Coffman campaigns also sparred this week with videos blasting each other’s current and past positions on immigration.
“The young people we met today will be architects, physicians, teachers — anything they hope to be,” Romanoff said after the roundtable with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in House leadership, and 18 students. “They deserve a Congress that values their dreams too.”
The discussion was attended by 18 so-called DREAMers, students who were brought to the country illegally when they were children, at the Aurora Community Connection Family Resource Center. (The immigrants are nicknamed for their support of the federal DREAM Act, which stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, a proposal to grant conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as youngsters.)
“Repairing our broken immigration system will strengthen our economy, improve our national security, and help keep families together,” Romanoff said. “That’s why I strongly support comprehensive immigration reform.”
Some of the students broke down crying as they related their stories and pleaded with Congress to fix the immigration system.
A woman who arrived in the country as an infant said she’s pursuing a career as a nurse, but her undocumented status is “frustrating, it’s irritating,” and she hopes Congress gets its act together.
“Growing up, I started seeing I was different,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used because she could face deportation if her story were publicized.
“Once I graduated high school, that’s when it hit me — you’re not going to be able to have the same opportunities as your friends,” she said. “I feel like I pretty much don’t have a normal life now. I see my friends — they get to drive, they go to school, they go out of the country — their parents die, their grandparents die, they get to go out of the country. If we have family die, we have to stay here, we have to mourn by ourselves.”
Her face streaming with tears, the woman continued: “I want to have a better future, I want to make my parents proud of me. I want to aspire to be something in life.”
Hoyer told the woman that her story was important.
“Let people know your story,” Hoyer said. “Let them know there are people — this is not a political event, but Republicans or Democrats support those who support you, who support the kind of America you want to see, support the kind of aspirations you want to realize.”
“I’ve heard a lot of Republican members of Congress say they’re all in favor of immigration reform, just not the Senate bill, or the House bill, or the DREAM Act, or DACA (the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy),” Romanoff said. “‘We’re all for reform, just not any actual proposal that’s on the table.’ ”
Hoyer said that those who back comprehensive immigration reform believe that it’s an interlocking set of policies rather than a problem that can be dealt with piecemeal.
“We need to make sure that, as the Senate bill does, that we have border security, but that we have a way to integrate, to make it one nation indivisible — to integrate people who are here, working hard, so they feel they are full partners and they don’t feel a constant fear that there’s going to be a knock at the door, that their husband’s going to be taken away or their wife’s going to be taken away,” Hoyer said at the roundtable. “That is not good for our society.”
The Coffman campaign fired back, pointing to a bill Coffman has co-sponsored in Congress and legislation Romanoff steered in the Legislature.
“While Speaker Romanoff is engaging in partisan political stunts with Nancy Pelosi’s top deputy, Mike is working hard to reach across the aisle and find a common sense fix to our immigration system,” said Coffman campaign spokesman Tyler Sandberg. “As Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez has said, Mike is a proven leader on immigration reform. Speaker Romanoff’s attacks are merely meant to distract from his own much maligned record on immigration.”
That record includes helming the Colorado House during a 2006 special session of the Legislature that produced a bill dealing with illegal immigration termed “the toughest in the nation.” Romanoff supporters say the bill, signed by Republican Gov. Bill Owens, was a necessary compromise aimed at heading off even more draconian ballot measures. But the Coffman campaign delights in repeating a 2010 assessment by state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, who said, “Speaker Romanoff threw the Latino community under the bus in the legislature.”
Ulibarri’s quote is the highlight of a web video the Coffman campaign unveiled this week, countered by a web video released by the Romanoff campaign that ties Coffman to fellow Republican Tom Tancredo, the immigration hardliner who held the 6th District seat before he stepped down and Coffman was elected in 2008.
Romanoff campaign spokeswoman Denise Baron said Coffman’s record on immigration is consistent.
“Congressman Coffman pledged to continue Tom Tancredo’s fight against immigration reform,” Baron said in a statement. “By describing the DREAM Act as a ‘nightmare,’ voting to restart the deportation of DREAMers, and proposing to end the Constitutional guarantee of citizenship for children born in the U.S., that is exactly what he’s done.”
A wide-reaching immigration reform bill passed with bipartisan support in the Senate a year ago but has yet to be taken up by the Republican-controlled House, a situation Hoyer and Romanoff called unacceptable.
Every week, Hoyer said, he urges his Republican counterpart, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, to put an immigration reform bill on the floor. “Let the American people see what you want to do,” he said he asks House GOP leadership. “That’s how democracy’s supposed to work.”
As things stand, Romanoff said, intransigent Republicans are blocking any immigration legislation from coming up for a vote in the House, including one sponsored by Coffman that would allow some immigrants a path to a green card for serving in the military.
Last month, Cantor, who faces a primary from a Tea Party Republican, blocked a House vote on a similar measure sponsored by a California Republican known as the ENLIST Act. Both backers of that proposal and Coffman’s say they’ll continue to press for passage.
Immigration-reform advocate Patty Kupfer, managing director of America’s Voice, who attended the roundtable, said afterwards that Coffman says he’s part of the solution but that he’s actually part of the problem.
“Rep. Coffman has done a tremendous job of talking the talk, but when it comes to taking action or walking the walk, he has been a massive disappointment,” Kupfer said. “He’s had a number of opportunities to move his bill to the floor and he has chosen not to do so.
“This is a huge problem, a broken system across the board,” she continued. “He has said he supports a reform package but has yet to do one thing to move that forward. He has done a tremendous job of talking about the issue and making it sound like he supports it, but behind the scenes he’s doing absolutely nothing.
“Mike Coffman has voted against immigrants every chance he’s had,” Kupfer charged. This week, she noted, marks a year since the House voted on a measure to eliminate funding for the Obama administration’s policy of deferring deportations for immigrants who arrived in the country as children.
“Mike Coffman voted for that. How can you say on the one hand you support immigration reform and on the other hand he’s voting to deport DREAMers? You can’t have it both ways. Either you support immigrants and you vote with immigrants, or you’re anti-immigrant, period,” she said.