By Deepak Bhargava, New America Media

With street protests ringing in their ears, most members of the Senate judiciary committee junked the Sensenbrenner House bill’s repressive features and opted for a more sensible compromise. Now this proposal faces the Senate vote, a test for anyone who claims to be a true leader of the people.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Mar 30, 2006 – Hundreds of faith leaders from communities across the United States gathered at the U.S. Capitol building on Monday, March 27, in a prayer service calling for compassionate and courageous leadership in the nation’s immigration debate.

During the rally of 300 religious leaders and 5,000 protesters, a hundred religious leaders from many faiths and traditions wore handcuffs and held a procession from the Capitol to a Senate committee hearing room, where senators were debating immigration reform proposals. They carried in their hearts the stories of immigrants from their own communities, like Winnie Jamison, whose husband was deported back to Jamaica and barred from ever returning to the United States. Now Winnie is forced into single parenthood, raising three children alone.

The religious leaders’ act of solidarity transpired as hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters marched in cities all over the country to demand integrity, equity and effectiveness in a system that has stripped immigrants of their dignity and forced so many into a life of little hope and even less opportunity.

Real leaders must emerge on Capitol Hill if we are to expect any positive and practical reform of our nation’s broken immigration system.

Fortunately, under the watchful eye of religious leaders, a majority in the Senate judiciary committee sided with reason and justice and rejected the harshest features of the Sensenbrenner bill (H.R. 4437), which passed in the House last December. That bill would have criminalized the 12 million undocumented people living here and 50 million citizens in this country who give them aid — family members, relatives, friends, religious institutions and humanitarian organizations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bipartisan compromise proposal that includes a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented already here, the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented children a path to citizenship through higher education or military service. The compromise proposal also would provide protection to agricultural workers. Now this bill faces a challenging path on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is setting the stage for a presidential run built upon scapegoating immigrants; he has introduced his own immigration bill based largely on the House proposal, and the Senate is starting to debate it this week.

Throughout this process, Republican leaders opposed to comprehensive immigration reform have attempted to exploit the myth that most Americans really want to see their immigrant neighbors and the immigrant classmates of their children be sent back to a country they no longer call home. That simply isn’t true.

The millions of people who have gathered in protest in communities across the nation, and the many more who are expected to march on April 10 in a “National Day of Action,” know the truth. That truth is: We are a nation of immigrants, each with a uniqueness of background and culture that makes America what it is today. We will no longer stand by and let out-of-touch politicians make us believe otherwise.

So, as our friends around the country have chanted in protest, “Si, se puede!” or “Yes, we can!”


Deepak Bhargava is executive director of social and economic justice nonprofit Center for Community Change.

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